Currently available on the iPhone 4s and 5, Siri is a very interesting development in the world of mobile communications and computing in general. While it works as a personal assistant, helping you organize data and your schedule as well as search the web its most amazing feature is its very helpful and impressive natural language interface. Officially released on October 4th, 2011 it was a project much longer in the making. It was originally conceived as an idea when DARPA, that is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research and development arm of the US Department of Defense (DOD) connected with SRI International. SRI worked on it with the backing of DARPA as a project aiming to advance artificial intelligence. In the end Apple caught wind of the possible applications of the project into their line of smartphones and they bought the application, incorporating it into the iPhone 4S.
The most amazing thing about Siri is its ability to recognize speech patterns in noisy environments with striking accuracy. It goes far beyond that however – initially she was meant to be simply a voice-operated assistant, but under the watchful eye of Apple she has evolved into something even more useful and intelligent in design. Today Siri is capable of answering questions, giving advice and searching the web without any keyboard input on your part. How did it get to this however?
In 2003, DARPA decided to award SRI International with a contract spanning five years in order to create what they called a “enduring personalized cognitive assistant”. They invested the impressive $150 million into a project SRI dubbed CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes). It was meant to be a serious step forward in creating a software system capable of learning from experience, reasoning and adapting to change. Before you jump and make a comparison to the sinister HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey” or the genocidal Skynet from the Terminator series, you should know Siri is not an artificial intelligence in the manner we imagine it. The CALO project led to what we know today, but it was only the backbone of a creation which now spans the efforts of several companies.
After much funding, testing and developing through companies such as Menlo Ventures and Morgenthaler Ventures, Siri was finally launched as an iPhone app in 2010. The app was capable of making plans and organizing them via speech, learning from repeated use and refining its capabilities. Two months after its initial release on the market Apple caught wind of its potential and bought it for a sum, which we will likely never learn. Part of the developers team that created Siri moved to work for Apple and in October 2011 the Siri we know today came into being as part of the iPhone 4S. She is now also available for the Android operating system apart from Apple’s iOS.[ad name=”bnr-middle-post”]
What made Siri into something completely amazing is the funding received into the project by the Apple corporation. Now Siri has much more data to work with, capable of faster adaptation through access to your personal information. There is nothing sinister about it however, as thanks to the added access she is now capable of fine-tuning its capabilities and personalizing them to you as a human being. How does that work? Imagine you are hungry and you want to know where you can have some nice pizza. All you have to do is as the question and Siri will check the web for you thanks to her connection to Google Maps and other websites. She will answer the question in voice, providing you with the closest address. Say you want directions? She can do that too. You want to send a message to your family, telling them you’re having pizza at a place on X street? Tell Siri to send a message to your mom, tell her what it says and she will ask you if the message is ready. Say yes and presto! Message sent.
What we see in Siri however goes far beyond the simple applications as a data assistant. What we see here is an upcoming revolution in voice recognition technology, making it easier than ever to communicate with machines around the world. Imagine an automated answering system for a company which answers accurately to natural speech. No more “Press 1 to do this, press 2 for that”. We are talking about a potential, currently barely tapped that will change much about the world.
Given time it is highly likely Siri will inspire better applications in more than just mobile communications, but a broad spectrum of technologies around the world. I personally can’t wait to see that day on the horizon. How about you?