Apple Snaps Up Natural Speech Tech Company Vocal IQ

Your next iPhone may be a lot more conversational because Apple has purchased Vocal IQ, a London-based company that specializes in natural language technology. The company's tech could be used to make talking to Siri much more like interacting with Tony Stark's JARVIS, or the computer system on Star Trek's USS Enterprise.

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VocalIQ's natural language system can learn from its interactions with people and over time so it feels more like talking with a person than a computer. That sounds like a perfect fit for Apple's own Siri voice control platform for the iPhone and iPad.

The company's website states, "Vocal IQ introduces the world's first self-learning dialog API—putting real, natural conversation beween people and their devices."

iOS 9 improved Siri's overall performance, but still relies on pre-programmed responses to questions and requests. Adding in Vocal IQ's technology would make it easier for Siri to understand conversational questions and requests, and make its responses more natural and lifelike.

Imagine telling Siri, "I need to find a fun activity for my date tonight," and getting a response like, "There's a jazz concert at your favorite pub, and the sculptor you like is hosting an open studio, too. Should I make your dinner reservations for 7?"

That sounds a lot like the Knowledge Navigator concept Apple showed off in the late 1980s. It included a tablet device where a user spoke conversationally instead of using a keyboard, and it handled tasks by anticipating the user's needs.

Vocal IQ's technology could also find a place in Apple's electric car plans. The car could respond to spoken commands instead of relying on buttons and displays that pull driver's eyes away from the road.

Apple's only comment on the purchase was that it "buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," according to the Wall Street Journal.