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Patent Hints Siri Could Detect Whispers — And Whisper Back

Siri-Whisper Credit: AZ Central
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Siri is already pretty smart. But in the future, the digital assistant might be even able to tell if you’re whispering to it — and would respond quietly in return.

That’s an improvement discovered in a newly unearthed Apple patent. The patent, 20170358301, was first applied for in 2016 and was published Dec. 14 by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. According to the patent’s title, it details a method for a “digital assistant” to provide “whispered speech.”

Apple writes that the digital assistant — presumably Siri — would be able to recognize when a user input is whispered rather than spoken at full volume. When it does, it’ll respond in a whispered speech response.

While you can probably think of a multitude of scenarios in which a whispering Siri could come in handy, Apple provides a few examples itself. For one, it could be used in a library “where speaking loudly may be prohibited” (or just frowned upon). In addition, Apple said it could be of use to users “working in a cubicle” who want to be respectful of their co-workers when interacting with their phones.

With Apple, there’s always a privacy aspect, too. In the patent, the company expands on how quiet interaction with Siri could come in handy: when discussing sensitive, private or simply just embarrassing information with your digital assistant.

Of course, there’s also the question of how a system would work. Some might scoff at the proposed ability because of how current digital assistants struggle to understand certain commands in certain situations.

Apple, for its part, offers a method. A device like the iPhone or an Apple Watch could analyze a user’s voice command, and measure the input’s frequency patterns and amplitude to detect whether or not it was whispered. The patent goes on to say that Siri can even recognize other tones in a user’s voice, and could respond in a similar tone of voice.

As always, this is just a patent application and isn’t necessarily indicative of Apple’s future plans for its products. We’re not sure when a feature would debut, if at all. But the patent does suggest that Apple is working toward developing and implementing features to make Siri smarter — and notably, to make Siri more accessible for a multitude of users in different scenarios.

While quiet interaction with Siri would obviously be a plus, there’s another side to all of this that’s a bit more far-reaching. Getting Siri to recognize whispered speech, and whisper in response, is just one step closer to getting the digital assistant to interact with iPhone users in a more humanoid manner.

So while the technology described within this patent may never see the light of day, the patent application (and other recent Siri-related work) does hint at the fact that Apple is trying to get interactions with Siri to be as natural and human as possible.

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