Hey Siri: Get Your Mac to Activate Siri by Voice

With Help From the Dictation System, Siri Can Be Voice Activated

macOS Sierra with Siri inquiry for Red Sox game.
macOS Sierra with Siri checking on ball game. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.
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You know Siri. She's that quirky personal voice assistant that you use on your iPhone and other iOS devices. Well, now's she on the Mac and ready to do her best to be a help and not a hinderance. Now, even though you're familiar with Siri, it's important to keep in mind that Siri on the Mac doesn't work quite like Siri on iOS devices.

Hey Siri

If you have an iPhone, you're probably used to saying "Hey Siri" to start a session with Siri.

You may be asking for the weather, or directions, perhaps a really good pizza joint. Regardless of the question you need to ask, you usually start the conversation by getting the attention of the personal voice assistant by saying, "Hey Siri."

Saying Hey Siri will even get the attention of the miniature assistant stuffed into the Apple Watch. But when it comes to the Mac, no amount of voice-based prodding is going to get Siri's attention. Seems the Mac and Apple have turned a deaf ear to the Hey Siri phrase, and instead force you to use keyboard combinations, or mouse or trackpad clicks, to get Siri to wake up and listen to your requests.

Enhanced Dictation to the Rescue

Apple may have chosen to leave Siri deaf until you manually turn the assistant on, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Mac has been able to take dictation and turn your voice into words since the release of OS X Mountain Lion.

It wasn't the best of dictation apps out there at the time, but it would eventually become a powerful core service of the Mac OS. By the time OS X Mavericks came about, Dictation had been improved. It not only could be used for converting your spoken voice to words, but you could also assign certain words and phrases to be used as commands to control various Mac services, features, and apps.

It's this feature of Dictation that we're going to use to enable Siri to wake up and respond when she hears the familiar Hey Siri greeting. Actually, you're not stuck with Hey Siri; you can use any word or phrase you want; Hey What's Your Name, or Answer Me This. It's up to you what phrase to use, though I'll demonstrate the process with the old favorite, Hey Siri.

Enable Siri

The first step is to enable Siri. To do this, you need a Mac running macOS Sierra or later, as well as a decent quality internal or external microphone.

For instructions on enabling Siri, take a look at Getting Siri Working on Your Mac, and then pop on back here.

Shortcut Keys

The hardest part of this process is coming up with a unique combination of keys that, when pressed, will enable Siri. Apple provides its developers a list of keyboard shortcuts used globally by macOS. It's not a good idea to use any of the keyboard shortcuts listed in the Keyboard Shortcuts for macOS table.

I decided to use control + period (⌃.) since Apple uses the period sparingly for keyboard shortcuts. There's still no guarantee that an individual app isn't already using this combination, but so far, it has worked for me.

Assign the Siri Shortcut Keys

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking on its icon in the Dock, or selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  1. In the System Preferences window, select the Siri preference pane.
  2. In the Siri preference pane, locate the popup menu next to the Keyboard Shortcuts text, and then use the menu to select Customize.
  3. Press the control + period keys (or whichever keyboard shortcut you wish to use).
  4. Return to the full list of preference panes by clicking the back button in the Siri preference pane toolbar.

Enable Dictation

  1. In the System Preferences window, select the Keyboard preference pane.
  2. Select the Dictation tab in the Keyboard preference pane window.
  3. Turn Dictation on.
  4. Dictation can be performed either by remote Apple servers, which takes a computational load off your Mac, or it can be performed locally on your Mac. The advantage of selecting Enhanced Dictation is that your Mac will perform the conversion, and no data will be sent to Apple.
  1. Click the box labeled Use Enhanced Dictation.
  2. Enhanced Dictation requires a download to your Mac of the Dictation Translation system; it may take a few minutes.
  3. Once the download is complete, you can return to the main System Preferences window by selecting the back button in the preference pane's toolbar.

Accessibility

To enable voice commands, we're going to use the Accessibility preference pane to associate a phrase with the keyword shortcut we created for Siri.

  1. In the System Preferences window, select the Accessibility preference pane.
  2. Scroll down through the sidebar to select the Dictation item.
  3. Place a checkmark in the box labeled Enable the Dictation Keyword Phrase.
  4. In the field just below the checkbox, enter the keyword phrase 'Hey' (without the quotes).
  5. The word Hey will be used to activate the Dictation system.
  6. Click the Dictation Commands button.
  7. Place a checkbox in the box labeled Enable Advanced Commands.
  8. Click the plus sign (+) to add a new command.
  9. In the field labeled When I say:, enter the word Siri.
  10. Use the dropdown menu next to the While using: text to select Any Application.
  11. Use the dropdown menu next to the Perform: text to choose the action to be performed when the word Siri is detected. In this case, select Press Keyboard Shortcut.
  12. Enter the keyboard shortcut you assigned to enable Siri. In this example, the shortcut is control + . (⌃.)
  13. Click the Done button.
  14. You can close System Preferences.

Using Siri With Voice Activation

That's everything you need to do to allow Siri to be voice activated on your Mac.

You're now ready to give voice activation a try. Go ahead and say Hey Siri; the Siri window should open, asking, What can I help you with today? Ask Siri about the weather, where to find a good pizza joint, or to open Lifewire.com.

Summary

The technique to get Siri to be voice activated involved three different steps:

Defining a keyword shortcut for Siri.

Enabling Dictation and the use of Dictation commands.

Defining a new Dictation command that launches Siri.

The Hey Siri voice command actually performed two functions. The first word, Hey, activated the Dictation command processor and allowed it to listen for a word that it could match to a stored command. 'Siri' was the word associated with a specific Dictation command that resulted in the press of the earlier defined Siri shortcut key.

If you would like to use a different voice command, it will need to contain at least two words; one to activate Dictation and one to be the Dictation command.