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Apple’s Siri voice assistant learns Hebrew

Intelligent speech recognition for iPhone and iPad to launch in Hebrew next month, though local searches are still in the future

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

#Parshachat merges Torah talk and the disability experience on Twitter (Illustrative: iPhone; Pixabay)
#Parshachat merges Torah talk and the disability experience on Twitter (Illustrative: iPhone; Pixabay)

For Israeli users of Apple’s iPhone who get tongue-tangled trying to pronounce a Hebrew name in a way the virtual assistant Siri is likely to understand, hope is nigh!

No longer will they have to pronounce Bar’el as “barrel,” or Carlebach as “carlbatch,” because Siri the robot – that indispensable, hands-free finder of phone numbers, weather warnings and other online information – is finally learning Hebrew.

Siri stands for Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface. For the Android aficionado, it is Apple’s version of Google Now, the increasingly intelligent appurtenance with which one can send emails and text messages, and obtain restaurant recommendations, reminders, jokes and more, simply by speaking one’s desires aloud. To date, it has been available in various dialects of English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese and Korean.

On Monday, Apple issued a prerelease version of its beta software update for the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9.3, and early birds have discovered that it includes Siri in Hebrew, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Tuesday.

The iOS update, and with it the Hebrew-speaking Siri, will be available to the Israeli public in around a month, although it will apparently not include a service enabling local searches for restaurants, films, etc.

Siri is known for his/her jokes (users can choose the assistant’s gender), and for witty ripostes to impolite requests or expressions of frustration. Israelis will be taking a close look at how the Holy Land’s Siri will handle Israelis’ (in)famous etiquette and linguistic stylings.

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