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Apple's Siri team looks to boost recognition of local destinations

Big box stores are one thing, but Siri also wants to live la vida local.

Siri's "voice" flashing on an iPhone screen.
Siri says, "Oh yeah, I like that little joint!"
Oscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Siri may soon get better at recognizing the name of your favorite local watering hole or burger joint.

Apple's Siri Speech Recognition Team said Thursday that it's improved the voice assistant's ability to identify names of local destinations and points of interest.

Virtual assistants have been great with big brand names like Starbucks, but they've had a harder time recognizing smaller businesses users ask about, according to a blog post published by the Siri team in Apple's Machine Learning Journal. Systems don't have enough data on how a user might pronounce the name of a lesser-known destination, because the destination doesn't crop up that often. So, it's been hard for Siri to detect local points of interest in speech.

To address the issue, the team has incorporated knowledge of the user's location into the speech recognition system. The system is customized to a preset geographic region based on the user's current location, and that region is cross-referenced with a database of recorded names of the local points of interest. The system compares the user's request to the entries in the database.

As a result of its work, the team said, it was able to reduce Siri's error rate on detecting local spots by more than 40 percent across eight US metropolitan regions, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Apple didn't respond to a request to clarify whether the new setup is already available to Siri users.

In the meantime, while you ponder asking Siri about Local Lil's Get-Lit Libations, here's a complete list of Siri commands you can play with.

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