What’s So Great About Siri?

What’s So Great About Siri?

Apple announced speech recognition for the next iPhone. Big deal. Android’s had it for more than a year. Apple is just playing “catch-up” and the feature’s not really earth-shattering anyway. Right?

Wrong. Everything in that opening paragraph is wrong, except the sentence that reads “big deal.” Siri is a very big deal, the biggest of deals.

In fact, Siri is the most important thing to happen to mobile in this decade so far. 

Siri naysayers fall into two camps: 1) those who say it’s no big deal; and 2) those who say Android has had it since August. Both classes of naysayers are wrong.

Siri is a Very Big Deal

As I detailed in this Cult of Mac post, Siri traces its lineage directly back to the largest artificial intelligence project in history, the Pentagon’s CALO project. CALO stands for “Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes,” and the project involved over 300 of the world’s top researchers in various aspects of A.I.

The entire Pentagon project was headed by Adam Cheyer, who is now director of engineering for Apple’s iPhone group.

Speaking to MIT Technology Review, Cheyer said that CALO sought to integrate “dialog and natural-language understanding, vision, speech, machine learning, planning, reasoning, service delegation and integrate them all into a… human-like assistant that can help you get things done.”

He described the Siri project as seeking to do the same thing in a consumer product. In fact, for the past four years, Cheyer and his team have been focused on optimizing the parts of CALO technology that can execute from a powerful cell phone and be usable by millions of everyday consumers. For the past year and a half, they’ve been working hard to integrate Siri technology into the iPhone OS and application set.

It’s not “voice recognition.” It’s artificial intelligence. And A.I. in your cell phone is a very big deal.

Siri Is Not Like Android Voice Actions

Android Voice Actions is great technology, and is widely used by many Android fans. But it’s not really in the same class as Siri.

Android Voice Actions offers a very solid and capable voice recognition engine that’s on the high-quality end of the spectrum among the wide range of similar products and services that have been around for awhile.

Like all existing voice-command and dictation products, it requires you to say a relatively narrow range of commands or it won’t understand you.

Siri, on the other hand, will be unlike anything the public has used before. You can say things that technically or literally have nothing to do with what you mean, but Siri will in many cases figure out what you mean based on context, history and and artificial intelligence designed to understand regular human speech.

For example, if you want to set an alarm for your nap, just say “wake me up in 20 minutes.” If you want to know what meetings you have scheduled for later, you can say, “how does the rest of my day look?”

These inputs specifically reference neither the application to be used nor the information desired. Yet Siri understands.

As humans, we take the understanding of such comments for granted. But getting machines to understand such tricky phrases is the Holy Grail of artificial intelligence.

Even more human-like is that once you’ve got a conversation started with Siri, it can understand requests that are even more cryptic. For example, you might ask: “Are there any top-rated Italian restaurants within walking distance?” If Siri replies, “no,” you can say, “how about Mexican?” Siri interprets your input in the context of a conversation about top-rated restaurants within walking distance.

Android Voice Actions can’t do anything like this because it’s voice command software, not artificial intelligence.

Siri sometimes gives you web search results, sometimes takes actions for you and sometimes controls the applications on your iPhone.

But Siri also answers questions, thanks to Wolfram-Alpha integration. You can ask random questions like “how many kilometers in 30 miles?,” “What time is it in Paris?,” “how many octaves on a piano,” or “why is the sky blue?” and Siri will just give you the answer. Not a web page. An answer to your question.

What’s the Greatest Great Thing About Siri

But the greatest thing about Siri from a historical and cultural perspective is not that it’s artificial intelligence. It’s that Apple via Siri will make A.I. a mainstream, everyday reality.

The reason is that Apple is baked Siri right into the core experience of using the iPhone. And also Siri is designed for mainstream, everyday use in a way that just about everyone will find compelling.

By mainstreaming, I mean the process of taking something that’s on the fringe of human culture, and making it an everyday part of life for a vast number of people. Right now, Google Voice Action is on the fringe of culture. The average personal on the street never heard of it.

Siri will become mainstream. Just about everyone will become familiar with it, even if they’re not iPhone users.

Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb. He mainstreamed it through product design and marketing.

Ford didn’t invent the automobile. He mainstreamed it through cost reductions and marketing.

We remember the mainstreamers because these are the people and companies that put technologies into every day use for everybody. And we can trace all current lightbulbs and cars back to Edison and Ford.

Google Voice Actions isn’t artificial intelligence. But it is an effective way for users to use voice to do things they would otherwise have to do with typing and touching and navigating through a visual interface.

However, the Android tool isn’t taking voice command mainstream. A lot of power users use it. But your mom will use Siri.

And One More Thing

iPhone 4s may be the first-ever phone to support Bluetooth 4.0, an ultra low-power technology that does a neat trick: It can wake devices up.

Combine this wireless capability with Siri, and you’ve got some interesting uses. For example, you can imagine a super long battery life wristwatch that stays asleep unless you touch it for the time, or when Siri wakes it up with some incoming information. And, of course, you’d talk to Siri by talking to the watch, while the phone is in your phone or purse.

You could also imagine a special-purpose desktop microphone that wakes up your iPhone when you talk, enabling a Star Trek experience of just talking without pushing a button, and getting responses back from the Enterprise’s, I mean iPhone’s, A.I.

So let’s be very clear about what Siri means for the human race. Siri represents the dawn of a new era in human-machine interfacing, real artificial intelligence for the masses.

No, it’s not perfect. Apple took the rare step of calling it “beta.” And no, it’s not the super advanced kind of A.I. you see in science fiction.

But it’s also not finished. The iPhone 4s’s Siri is just the beginning. Future versions will become ever more sophisticated.

Google, Microsoft and others will come out with their own A.I (in that order, I predict).

So when you get the chance to finally talk to Siri, be nice. Siri is a very, very big deal, and unlike anything that has come before. It represents a new era in computing. And it will definitely get everyone talking.

  • faat

    Third kind of naysayers says: “I never liked and never will shouting at my phone to do things”.

  • Dannyreillyboy

    android has indeed got Voice Actions but i notice no mention of the Voice Control that is already built into iPhone? this i much the same aa voice actions and i’d hazard a guess that apple had it first.

  • Stu

    Nice article, Mike.

  • asdf

    my RAZR had it way before the iPhone even came out and others even before that, but I don’t know what they were but its been round since the late 90’s at least so no apple didn’t have it first =/

  • Brandon Todd

    great article ! =)

  • Laz

    I’m a little bit excited now. :D

  • Gouldsc

    I’m on the fence, I wonder how it does with the “Paris Hilton” AI dilemma.  “Show me pictures of Paris Hilton.”  does it bring up a picture of the Hilton in Paris, or a heiress flashing herself to the universe?

    It’s also worth wondering when this will come to OSX.

  • Alexander Woitalla

    aside from many cars which use voice control, right?

  • Benjamin

    This is a great write-up on Siri. Everyone needs to read this.

  • Addf

    lack of a definite article in the request is a pretty good give away that you mean the person and not the hotel.

  • Jordan Shadburn

    “But the greatest thing about Siri from a historical and cultural perspective is not that it’s artificial intelligence. It’s that Apple via Siri will make A.I. a mainstream, everyday reality.”

    Hit the nail right on the head! That is what separates Apple from everyone else. 

  • Shannon

    Huuuuge “Amen” to that. I’d also modify it to: “I never liked and never will like loudly asking my phone to do things _repeatedly_ because it doesn’t understand exactly what I wanted the first time when I could have clicked twice and typed in four letters to find out the weather in Miami”

  • Sean Harding

    I agree, this is just the beginning, and just liked the iPhone itself evolved quite a bit to get where it is today in a few years, especially when other apps start having Siri integration, Siri is going to be quite remarkable and far ahead of where it is today. 

    I truly believe this is the beginning of something extraordinary.

  • Ilya Gelfenbeyn

    There is an app for Android called Speaktoit Assistant that looks like Siri

  • Christopher McManus

    Mike, good article.  I think this is one of those things that has initially been brushed over but whose value will become very clear very soon.  

    Does anyone know how Nuance fits in here?   I thought they were the real brains (i.e. IP) in the artificial intelligence.  And, if so, I’m concerned that Apple does not own the real IP that makes all of this work.  

    Any insight from anyone would be appreciated  

  • Chris

    well, a good AI would ask what you mean, and I hope Siri is capable of this

  • Chris

    but google doesn’t just let you control your music or phone via voice (like Apple), it can also let u do searches and so on…it’s a bit more sophisticated that Apple’s voice control. but not intelligent like Siri

  • Joe Desy

    I foresee the CEO’s of tech companies around the world soon demanding their creative teams, not to “Think different,” but “Think like Jobs!” We just pre-ordered our first iPhones yesterday.

  • Honey Badger

    Excellent article and I couldn’t agree more. Siri IS a big deal, and no, Android has nothing like it. I’m sure that they are working on copying as we speak though.

  • Honey Badger

    My understanding is that Nuance is the engine that recognizes what we say and turns it into text. It is the Siri engine that takes the text and “understands” what the speaker wants in the context of the conversation.

    I may be wrong, but that is the way I understood that this works.

    The tight hooks that Apple have created between Siri and iOS5 is very impressive.

  • yinkel

    Siri: “I have located images of Paris Hilton. Shall I find more?”

  • Buckoman

    I’m pretty sure that they will port Siri to the iPhone 4, officially or not.

  • Buckoman

    And I’m not sure why everyone is hating on the 4S… Apple released the 3GS with processor improvements and whatnot, but it wasn’t really a HUGE leap forward as 4 was to 3GS.

  • savedR

    This is a thing. Voice control is great, and better/smarter voice control is more awesome, but it NECESSITATES letting everyone in earshot know exactly what you are trying to do with your phone. Unless you’re completely alone in a soundproof environment, it becomes useless.

    So, A.I. with a direct brainstem interface, plz. :D

  • João Bruno Gonçalves

    i think that wile people were hoping for a new iPhone design, and there was disappointment, the big launch was siri, it will be after the mouse, touchscreen, the next way of commanding technology, it´s big, bigger than 10 new iPhone designs

  • berendsrob

    The fact that there is a big datacenter, processing all the Siri data and getting smarter by using it more often, is also really awkward.

    Maybe, over 20 years, we will look back at the 4th of October as the day Apple launched Skynet :). 

  • John Neumann

    I asked the original Siri app on my 3Gs to find me pictures of Paris Hilton and the Hilton in Paris this is what the two responses were:

  • Gordon Wong

    I have the Siri app on my iPhone.  Not as powerful or sophisticated as the one in the iPhone 4S, but I gave it a try and see what came up when I typed in Paris Hilton.  It asked if I was looking for movies starring Paris Hilton or “paris” events at hilton, and if neither, I could click third option to check the web for “paris hilton”. 
    Got my iPhone 4S on preorder.  Definitely excited.

  • Bitter Witch

    WILL SHE RESPOND “YOU’RE WELCOME” IF YOU SAY “THANK YOU”?  That’d be amazing.  O_O LOL.  

  • João Bruno Gonçalves

    to the ones saying the user experience will not be good because no one wants to speak to a phone in public, it will evolve naturally for the next generations, but i can see myself saying at home, iTunes put some miles davis on, and it starts playing, or at work, Mail send a message to X saying the project is ready for presentation, but it will eventually makes us all more of an island, in social interaction because we now can speak to a machine and it replies 

  • scubus

    Why?  Even humans don’t ask if they think they know what you mean… if you leave the definitive article off its on you, even in the real world.

  • John Neumann

    The Hilton in Paris:

  • 4mula

    This is so incredibly exciting. I imagine a time not too far away where you will be able to control things like your heating, lighting, home security etc. via X10 – just by asking Siri. Can’t wait to grab a 4S : )

  • 4mula

    Doubtful, it requires some of the more powerful hardware the 4S has on board.

  • faat

    Correct, its just one of them ‘best things we will never use’, beside that 1 time driving and that 1 time showing it to some friend geek. I don’t see it being used in real life. Plus it seems that it always uploads voice data to Apple/Siri servers = goodluck using when you’re on 2G coverage area ;)

  • 4mula

    Errr… did you not *read* the article?!

  • oneil nicholas

    I can’t wait to try out SIRI its definitely going to be the next big thing…. Once it comes out people need to remember that its still a BETA  but time will show how great it will be

  • Michal Dudek

    Yea, but didn’t you have to record your voice first? I had a phone with voice recognition for calling people, but I needed to record my pronounciation of all their names. iPhone’s Voice Control recognizes the names (even the weird ones) without it.

  • João Bruno Gonçalves

    i imagine the boards of the big companies asking now, well what wave to go against this?
     and the ceo saying well nothing concrete really,how much time do we need to do this?well it take some years now….

  • Michal Dudek

    How do you talk on your phone then? How do you make requests to other people when calling them?

  • Cultofmac

    Well, some of us do not use english/american language and for us, there is not even Siri…
    So for us – that’s not a big thing about iPhone 4S.
    Wonder how many years it’s going to take before it gets ready for other languages…
    So then we are back to an iPhone with a little more CPU speed and some more camera pixels. But for what – why ? The old one is not slow – and why a megapixel camera without lenses ?

  • kavok

    I have the original app on my iPhone, and I discovered it DOES have a sense of humor.

    Wanting to test how much it actually understood, I asked for it to find someplace near by for lewd purposes. It replied “Naughty Kavok!” but then proceeded to attempt to find an escort service.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the new version baked into the iPhone 4S will respond to pleasantries and say “You’re welcome!”

  • TylerHoj

    In 50 years, I see Siri being responsible for a murder while a tall bald guy tries to unravel the mystery he previously blamed on a robot. Just saying. But yeah, Siri’s a time saver. Looking cool!

  • Twitter

    “while the phone is in your phone or purse.”
    god damn that’s some advanced siri

  • kriswm

    i want that watch. that’s excatly what i’m looking for. why didn’t they add bluetooth 4.0 to the nano in the latest round of update. would have been a powerful add-on.

  • Abbas BenTaleb

    the worl “siri” in arabic means “Go !” or “Move” “walk” to a  female. so it is exactly the same thing about siri your personal assistant which in most cases is a female to which you give orders.

  • Jake000420

    Siri also speaks French from launch!!

  • Michael

    They need to give her more life- like speech, have her respond back to me using my name and let me give her a real name.  Once you humanize this technology, people will never go back to a regular inanimate phone again. Then it becomes a real “personal” assistant.

  • pangeomedia

    Good point. Remember, many people didn’t think the telephone was worth using. “If I want to talk to someone I’ll just walk down the street and knock on their door.”

    Times change, and so do people’s habits.

    As to people not talking to a phone in public, that freaked me out five years ago. Now it’s done all the time. It may make us look like a planet of goofballs, talking to the ether, but it opens up all kinds of possibilities.

    This could be fun.

  • John Neumann

    I understand the initial awkwardness but it wasn’t long ago that we felt the same way about chatting on phones in public. Give it 2 more years and it will seem as natural as speaking to someone next to you. 

    I see it able to answer ONLY to your voice if you so desire, able to give it a name of your choosing and personality profiles. 

    In five years the entire iPhone/device will fit into a bluetooth-sized unit that you will wear everywhere. 

    I certainly wished I had THAT when I was in school! (instead of that dumb ol’ Apple 2! :D

  • pangeomedia

    People need to understand the difference between ‘voice commands’ and ‘artificial intelligence’. Speaking a command and having something done is what ‘voice command’ is all about. Speaking and having a device understand ‘relevant context’ is what AI is all about. Siri is AI. All those funny little apps on Android, Windows, and Mac are simple voice commands.

  • God

    as well as German… And they’re adding more languages in the future.

  • Marcio Morgado

    I think people just haven’t seen the true potential of this technology and which company is bringing it. I think it’s a great step is the right direction if only we could give her more of a human voice and less text-to-speech voice.

  • Vesa

    Mun Mac toimii suomeksi, ja tätini Siri puhui myös suomea. Kai tämä uusi Siri puhuu myös suomea?

  • igus

    Shouldn’t be long before we see Siri on the iPhone connected via bluetooth to an earpiece that also contains an integrated microphone.

    Haven’t seen Bob for a while and he starts to talk to you, then Siri will whisper in your ear “that’s Bob from Boston”.

    Or you mumble to yourself “where the hell am I?” and Siri will tell you your location via the earpiece.

    With an earpiece, Siri really would become an extension of yourself.

  • João Bruno Gonçalves

    the best is that this starts with the iPhone so people feel natural with it and then it will make its way to all of the lineup, thats why i was saying stay at home and you have the macbook or apple tv, or iPad, iMac and you can star a music wherever she is..start a movie ..etc

  • Josh Boles

    What’s funny is that, if Google launches a similar feature in Ice Cream Sandwich, people will say they copied Apple in this. What people don’t understand is that technology like this takes months, if not years, to build. If Google or Microsoft releases a similar feature as Siri, it’s already been in development. They started it before they knew that Apple had it.

  • kvanh

    Uh Edison most definetly invented the lightbulb AND mainstreamed it, although it wasn’t until tesla and Westinghouse got AC power working that it really took off.

    Other than that, spot on.

  • kvanh

    We’re already used to people talking into Bluetooth headsets so I actually think this isn’t going to be a huge leap.

  • Angga Hadi

    please, check out Voice Talk first in galaxy S 2 for comparison.

  • GDal

    Edison did NOT invent the light bulb. He was trying to develop a bulb that used less energy, a high resistance carbon filament incandescent bulb. Electric lights were in use in Paris long before Edison. The first light bulb was made at least 20 years prior to Edison’s work, and the first electric light at least 70 years before. Edison’s was the first practical electric bulb, but not the first.

  • heeloliver

    it may be great and all, but no one will use it. we would look stupid just randomly talking to out phones.

  • Honey Badger

    You are very correct, this type of work can not be developed over night. It takes months if not years. Google may also be developing this kind of tech. I wouldn’t know. In any case if they weren’t, I’m sure they are now, that’s how Google rolls.

  • Honey Badger

    It “looks” like Siri does it? Oh well that’s different!

    Siri has hooks deep within the OS and can carryout tasks deep within the OS.

    Speektoit does neither.

  • Tom McGrath

    Haha, I told one of my friends about Siri. He promptly got out his Blackberry, and said, “My Blackberry can do that”. He then said into the phone “Call Jonny Appleseed (obviously a different name, but I’m not using that name on here)”. The Blackberry then showed three names on the screen, all in Comic Sans. The third one on the list was the one he asked for. “See, third on the list.” I asked him weather it could tell him the weather. He said to it “What is the weather.”…”Show me the weather.”…”GIVE ME A WEATHER CHART!”. No reply. “Yeah, it only does stuff that’s on the phone itself”. Apple wins again.

  • Tom McGrath

    I’d love that. It could even be quite helpful for people with memory problems, despite you using it in the sense for you just forgetting who someone is. Siri could become a second brain for me. 

  • Laz

    That is your own hangup if you feel “stupid”.

    Just think the more people who do it the more people will be used to it the less alien it would be.

    20 years ago people probably said it looks stupid talking into something you hold in your hand.

  • Angga Hadi

    Dear Tom,

    try”New York weather today” (you might want to add  “Please”, in case Blackberry and Android aren’t as polite as Siri..you know, they are just fruits)

    maybe both of you were in a slightly heated arguments that you forgot there are easy ways to say things.;)

  • Basit

    GREAT, I LOVE IT!!! Can I tell it, I WANNA MEET MY LONG LOST CHILDHOOD CRUSH???

  • research first.

    Im not sure where you get your facts from, but android phones do have AI learning voice recognition.  I think you should do better research before posting things on the internet to make yourself look stupid.  

  • “fanbois”

    I think the point is that the user does not have to know the right commands, whether it’s obvious or not, to get something done. Of course, once the right commands are known, they’re obvious in hindsight.

  • Steve

    I WANT SIRI FOR MY iMac! ! ! !

  • Angga Hadi

    yes, understood. with Siri, we hopefully would not have to learn difficult commands or keywords like we have to in other programs. I mean, Beta-Siri is that smooth, who knows what we’ll have with the full version of Siri, right?

    One of the interesting things for me is that…could it be that if let’s say Android’s Voice Talk’s database is big enough to contains the words commonly spoken, therefore let it learn our sentences, it will run smoothly like Siri?

    is it as simple as that?

  • John Branham

    With the rumors running around I thought so too, but as soon as I saw that video the played at the keynote, I KNEW I would use it all the time. 

    I downloaded Siri app before they deleted it, and that in itself is pretty damn intelligent.

  • Adam Jensen

    Yes, and it would bring us closer to a cyberpunk dream world! Mhm.. mechanical augmenatations :)

  • Ytmobileme

    I think Siri wouldnt give correct results, with a lot of errors so people wouldn’t use it. maybe it will be fully usable by 2021. I dunno, its a huge step in humanity where you can talk to a machine and it would understand.

    What happens if you have a lisp or you talk in an accent? How difficult will it be to implement it into other languages?

  • Henchan Junk

    Steve Is Resurrected Inside.

  • Jake Evans

    Wouldn’t it mistake you have a conversation with somebody else and think it needs to do something? Like pocket dialing I hate that shit. 

  • itsDavidAbraham

    I wonder what they have up their sleeves for vision

  • John C. Randolph

    If Google had bought Siri and offered it up as web site where you could type in natural-language queries, the pundits would be falling all over themselves and saying that google had sewn up their market for the next decade at least.

  • jclardy

    Not in its current state, right now you hold down the home button for a second before listening. 

  • jclardy

    Sorry, they are still different things. Voice Talk uses a list of known phrases..if say something not on the list it will not understand.

    Siri takes the words you say and does its best to actually interpret what you mean, which is why you can say something like “wake me up in 20 minutes” rather than saying “set alarm for 9:30PM” It knows the context of your current conversation, so if you then said “cancel that, 30 minutes” it would know you are talking about the alarm you just set.

    The difference is you talk in natural language, the AI understands you, rather than you having to learn the set commands.

  • Dibou

    He had Speaktoit read it for him.

  • jclardy

    I can’t wait for this to come to Mac…it would be a huge productivity booster.

    With it always running in the background you can have it do menial tasks in the background while you are working on something else. If you are working on a project and think of something that needs to be done you just say “Siri, add a new task to my home list, …” and siri does it for you in the background.

    Honestly, Siri integrated into OS X could give a huge boost to Mac marketshare. 

  • FalKirk

    “we would look stupid just randomly talking to out phones”-heeloliver

    Respectfully, you already randomly talk to your phone. It’s called a PHONE CALL! Sheesh.

  • Kristian Iskanius

    It will. Apple added our language to Mac Os X Leopard. It will be part of Siri sooner than you think.

  • FalKirk

    “Unless you’re completely alone in a soundproof environment, it becomes useless”-savedR

    Sometimes I can hardly believe how myopic people are. You make phone calls within earshot, right? 

    Siri: “Set an alarm”; “Call my wife”; “Cancel the budget meeting”; “Wake me tomorrow at 7″; “Remind me to call pick up bread on my way home”(alarm goes off when you leave current location); “What’s the date on Saturday?”; “Send text: Running late”; “Where’s my brother?”; “Where is closest Red Lobster?”; “Find coffee near me”; “Find a gas station near here”; “Make a note to look up Agocs file when I get to office”; “FaceTime Lisa”; “Call Suzan on her work phone”; “Remind me to call mom”; “What’s the weather in New York?”; “Search for information on artificial intelligence”; “What’s 15% of an $11.50 bill?”

    Why do you think it would be embarrassing to say any of these things in public. What you say on the phone is already FAR more embarrassing.

  • FalKirk

    “its just one of them ‘best things we will never use'”-faat

    You are SO going to eat those words.

  • CeeJay Louis

    Wow. I must admit, I was one of the naysayers falling into those categories, but I am now convinced that I was completely wrong. Apple is turning out to be our Skyney. O_O

  • Hrunga_Zmuda

    Siri, read all the comments on this page to me, and leave out the ones by idiots.

  • savedR

    Now see, that’s a very interesting point, because I do NOT make phone calls such that other people can hear. I cup my hand over the mouthpiece a bit and talk softly, so softly that someone standing right next to me would have problems hearing my side of the conversation. Not in a weird, secret-agent way or something, just so that my phone call is my own, and I’m not voyeuristic enough or naturally loud enough to broadcast it to anyone close.
    Not that the stuff I would ask Siri to do would be embarrassing, just that I would want to keep it private. It’s mine, not yours, and if I wanted to invite anyone else into my business I would absolutely do so. That’s one of the reasons I feel comfortable manipulating my phone in public now via the touch screen, because I know that those around me can’t see what I’m doing; I feel that my right to privacy is thus sufficiently protected.

    This is super weird, because I’m an extremely public person online. I have pretty active accounts on like the five most popular social networks, and the overwhelming majority of all my posts are public. I share my location on Foursquare whenever I can think about it, which is pretty much any time I leave the house. But the key is, _every time I post publicly, I do so at my own discretion._ The fact that Siri requires voice input means that decision is taken away from me in any location in which people are within fifteen feet, and suffice it to say I’m uncomfortable in absolutely any instance in which the privacy of my actions is forfeit without my say.

  • dale2000

    So cup your hand over your mouthpiece when you ask Siri questions.

  • Jesse Lopez

    I have to disagree with this article.  Every example given was easily done by Droid app named Voice Actions Plus by Pannous on my Samsung Galaxy s2.  Random questions like “how many kilometers in 30 miles?,” “What time is it in Paris?,” “how many octaves on a piano,” or “why is the sky blue?” and Voice Actions Plus will just give you the answer. 

  • dale2000

    I remember voice recognition software for Windows 3.1.  It SUCKED, but it was obvious that it was a technology that just needed to stay off the radar for a few generations before it’d be public-ready.  I’d love to see it on Mac OS X also… now that it’s ready.  It’s ready, right?  … I guess we’ll find out soon.

  • dale2000

    Odd… it didn’t read anything!

  • savedR

    Hey, long as that’ll work, I’ll try it. :D

  • savedR

    Btw, I absolutely love Discus’s emailing me new comment replies and letting me respond with my email client, that’s just freaking convenient.

  • FalKirk

    I respect what you’re saying, but I also think that you’re the exception, not the rule. In fact all the people who talk on their phones around me prove to me that you’re the exception.

    If you’re really private, I can think of dozens of occasions when I could use Siri in private. In the car, in my office, in my home when I’m going for a walk etc. Just using Siri in the car will be a joy, a delight and safer as well.

  • AppleFan

    What would make Siri perfect, is if it had the voice the late, great Steven P. Jobs.  Every Apple lover in the world would buy one.

  • AppleFan

    Oh yeah, Mike:  Great article!

  • savedR

    Oh, I’m sure I am, lol. Yeah, everyone around me has NO FREAKING PROBLEM sharing their cell conversations, it seems like.

  • Ictus75

    My wife, who is not in any way technical, nor who has ever mentioned wanting an iPhone, told me the other night she wants an iPhone4s. She said she watched the video of the 4s and wants one because of Siri. She is the mainstream mentioned here. I told her that’s fine, but the iPhone will change her life…

  • Mitchell Busby

    Yeah, but how many people have that app, or even know of it? And it’s not baked into the OS. That’s what this article is getting at. 

  • Hrunga_Zmuda

    I love Apple’s stuff mostly, not always. But what I’d want is Homer Simpson’s voice.

  • Site7000

    “Fully usable?” What does that mean? Is a 5-year old intelligent or not?

  • Ranilus

    Years later when our children ask us,”where were you when you handed our world to the A.I. known as Siri?”

    what will we say? “um blogging about how awesome Siri is over android’s primitive voice command system.”

  • Blackmar1988

    What about broken English, slang, and other twists to the English language to include differentiating between (bass, bass, base, dawg, niggah, …. Etc.)

  • stencil chicken

    be cool if we could change the voice to KITT from Night Rider, and instead of the microphone image, have the red graphics that kitt had.

    there’s a lot of room for some cool personalisation.

  • baby_Twitty

    Here’s an interesting easter egg for all you Siri/Voice A.I. fans out there; go to WolframAlpha website and enter this question: “Are you Skynet?”

    Come back and give me a thumbs up if you find the answer amazing. :)

  • stencil chicken

    yeah that was interesting.. 

    try asking it “what is the meaning of life” =P

  • Meego Mad Man

    QUESTION: Time?

  • jnjnjn3

    Thanks for the info Mike. Most of the origin of Siri was new for me.
    I saw ‘life’ demo of Siri (via the webcast) and was very impressed. I know a bit or two about A.I. and this seems to come close to some of it’s aims.
    I think your right about it’s importance, especially in combination with Wolframs natural language engine which seems to share the same goal (but doesn’t execute as well as Siri).

    J.

  • MacFreek

    Mike,

    If Siri is the cat’s pajamas when will the same technology be ported to iPad users?

  • Speldosa

    “And, of course, you’d talk to Siri by talking to the watch, while the phone is in your phone or purse.”

    Yo, dawg. I heard you like phones so we put a phone within your phone so you can use apps while you’re using apps.

  • Dennis Lee

    You can say things to the Siri app that was out on the app store and it will reply. You can tell Siri “You rock” and it will respond with Hey, thanks! and You can say  “Thank you” and it will respond with I appreciate that, <your name=””></your>

  • baby_Twitty

    I already know it. It’s 42!

  • Doron

    great article

  • Andrew Smith

    Did you even read the article?

    Those are basic questions that any high-schooler-developed app could answer. What siri does better than any other app trying to be like it is that it learns and evolves on its own. It not only knows what you say, but what you mean. Asking simple google questions doesn’t really qualify the app as a legitimate competitor.The fact that you can ask Siri “What does my day look like?”, “Do i need a raincoat?”, or “Move my appointment with mike to 2pm.” while the app seamlessly integrates with the other fuctions of your phone to pull up your schedule, show you the weather, or change the start and end time of a calendar event is what makes Siri lightyears ahead of anything else.You don’t have to say robotic commands like “Show me my calendar.”, “What is the weather like in ___.”, or (I can’t even think of a way for you to command the appointment move on a simple app like your discussing). Siri knows know what you mean without you having to blatantly say/ask it.

  • Michael

    Just give it Morgan Freeman’s voice please.  I’d feel kinda like Batman hehe.

  • Version One

    haha stole my thoughts :P

  • Version One

    haha stole my thoughts :P

  • jmmxx

    “… never will like loudly asking my phone to do things _repeatedly_ because it doesn’t understand exactly what I wanted the first time …”

    So you will be fine with it when you can ask quietly and it replies correctly the first time?

  • jmmxx

    Need for privacy is real in some cases, but when you are on the street corner with some friends, what’s the problem with saying aloud “Where is that Ethiopian restaurant?” 

    Would you rather type it in?

  • jmmxx

    I agree with you completely faat. And people will never use that new-fangled mousie-thing to control their computer.

  • Robert Taylor

    Who knows. Maybe in the iPad 3. Since Siri only works on the iPhone 4S with it’s dual core processor and the iPad has that processor, maybe Siri will work on the iPad once you download the new iOS 5. You should inquire of Apple on their support site. Makes sense to me. Of course if it’s integrated in the actual chipset then maybe not. That would be so cool though!

  • Robert Taylor

    Yeah, but like they say, that’s just simple voice command software. You can’t tell it to make an appt or wake me in 2 hours and have it talk back to you and understand speech not having to do with any specific app, but it understands what you mean. Give me a break and reread this article.

  • Robert Taylor

    That’s right Mitchell. That app just expands the type of questions he can ask but he still can’t tell his phone to make an appointment or do a specific function other than give information.

  • Robert Taylor

    Oh no!!!! Not skynet!      God help us all! LOL!

  • Robert Taylor

    It already will understand a few languages with more to come. It is a beta version and will just get better the more it is used. The possibilities are endless.

  • Robert Taylor

    You’re totally wrong. It will change the way we communicate with our devices. Besides, don’t we already look stupid talking to our phones that have voice command software or when were in our car and people see our lips moving and no one is in the car with us???
    LOL!!!

  • Robert Taylor

    Yeah sure you did! I don’t know how you could download a siri app since it is integrated into an iphone OS that’s not even out yet and is not in the app store. 

  • Robert Taylor

    There is no comparison. That is still voice recognition software. It can’t talk back to you and you can’t tell it to do a task. You can only ask it for information.

  • Robert Taylor

    They are nowhere near doing this. I’m sure they will do something by late next year but there will have to be hardware changes in the android type phones. It’s not just software, it need specific hardware to work, preferably dual core processors and most android phones don’t have those. That will change soon enough though.

  • Robert Taylor

    Yep! They always do it after the fact. Once Apple does something, they have to copy it and develop it for their OS.

  • Robert Taylor

    It already does work with an earpiece as far as I can tell from what they said in the keynote.

  • Vanillacide

    I can’t let you do that Dave.

  • Josh Boles

    Umm, there are tons of dual core phones out already (Samsung Galaxy II, Droid Bionic, myTouch 4g Slide, Motorola Atrix, EVO 3D, and a few others) The hardware is already available for Google to do this.

    Sure, the _majority_ Android phones don’t have dual cores, but as of right now, _no_ iPhones (released) have dual cores.I also think it’s pretty naive of you to say something as if it were fact (“They are nowhere near doing this”). You have no idea what’s up Google’s sleeve, especially now with buying Motorola.

  • Josh Boles

    There is plenty in iOS 5 that has been in Android since 2008. This is how competitive markets work.

  • Josh Boles

    Apple bought Siri last April. The app existed. Apple did not start from scratch.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04
    http://articles.businessinside

  • Snarechopsdave

    Siri was an app on the app store before Apple acquired it and pulled the app since it will be integrated into the OS itself. So yes you are right it isn’t in the app store currently but it once was.

  • Len Williams

    Mike, this is possibly the best article I’ve ever read of yours. You’ve outlined exactly what Siri means, not only to iPhone 4S users, but for the future of technology and mankind. Way back in the early 90’s Apple came out with a video called the Knowledge Navigator, where they outlined the road they were traveling. I finally realized that that days was the day the iPhone 4S and the new Siri has arrived, and just as Steve Jobs has done so many times in the past, the world has changed. Siri will mark a significant turning point in human technological advance that is as major as the light bulb, electricity, running water, the telephone, radio, computers and all the other milestones of human achievement.

  • Danny

    would be easier to take the article seriously if you weren’t trying so hard to convince people that its not the same as Androids voice actions. You just sound pretentious and biased toward the brand. iPhones are great devices but constantly comparing a top end device to thousands of middle grade devices that can Run a superior software makes for bad reads, and misinformation through Bias.

  • ipguy

    are you siri’ous ?

  • wayzom

    He accurately explained why theynwere not the same. He emphasized the point because countless commenters continue to claim it is…

  • wayzom

    Yes if you programmed those specific statements as actions you could. You seem to have missed the point.

  • wayzom

    Yeah talking to a phone is weird…

  • wayzom

    It is not worth it. No one likes reality.

  • APPL13D5C13NC3

    fuck off

  • APPL13D5C13NC3

    yes yes yes yes yes yes i agree!

  • APPL13D5C13NC3

    My friends who use android have said the same thing, that android has it and i just look at them and laugh :-P

  • APPL13D5C13NC3

    I was thinking the same thing when i saw the keynote last tuesday lol.

  • APPL13D5C13NC3

    Siri is an awesome name for it too.. even though it reminds me of siri cruise lol

  • The_Guy_With_The_Comments

    Boo hoo hoo, someone is talking about Apple products in a good way and being negative about my preferred brand, wah wah.

    It’s NOT religion, it’s NOT jingoism, it’s a computer brand. Get a life. 

  • Shipeep

    That was a great read! I always enjoy reading your articles.

  • JBFromOZ

    of greater importance to my mind is that Siri appears to require a “connection” to the mothership, so not only are the people around you maybe able to hear your question, the information you request is imho being sent off your device to a remote facility for further interpretation, does this get tagged as “me” or saved? or logged? or what?

  • Tunde Cockshott

    Fantastic article.

  • HerbalEd

    What a jerk! I did not at all see any bias. He simply compared the two systems, and I was glad to learn the difference.

  • HerbalEd

    It’s seems obvious that Siri-type technology will eventually be a part of all Apple hardware, including laptops, iPads, iPods, etc. Why wouldn’t they?

  • HerbalEd

    It’s inevitable.

  • ssion

    “iPhone 4s may be the first-ever phone to support Bluetooth 4.0″

    Could iPhone just start to use bluetooth basic services, before trying to sell wind with a 4.0 version ?

  • Steve Slobs

    Danny got it right, but what other kind of responses would you expect from a cult.

  • savedR

    Oh, yeah. And the weird thing about my response above is that I actually trust Apple, a corporation whose chief goal is to make money, more than I trust strangers in earshot! But that’s exactly the case, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

  • Louis Tan

    Siri will fail for the simple fact that voice recognition systems are terrible (think your bank’s automated system). These A.Is have existed for a long time and they’re just implementing it onto the iPhone. 

    It’ll be great if it works, but it wont work. Mark my words, failsiriblog.com websites will appear out of the woodwork

  • Bryant Griner

    This is PRECISELY what i’ve been trying to explain to my Dad and Mother, who in there 50’s I figured would find this kind of computing surreal. I mean, they went a good portion of their lives WITHOUT Google. 

    Oh the humanity!

    The downside is it will make us dumber. I’m certain of this. I wrote a thesis on how technological advances throughout history slowly take away cognitive ability because of lack of use. 

    Memory is the prime example. Our ancestors who lived pre-book era memories were vastly superior to ours…

    An example closer to home, When’s the last time you memorized a number?

  • guest

    “By mainstreaming, I mean the process of taking something that’s on the
    fringe of human culture, and making it an everyday part of life for a
    vast number of people.”

    A Steve Jobs specialty…..

  • MacGoo

    Great article. Thanks for the well-reasoned, articulate explanation. REALLY tired of hearing the (already) hackneyed argument that Android already has this, but never had the energy to beat my head against the wall explaining the rather obvious differences. You’ve saved me time – now I can just share a link!

  • Mickeymom02

    It’s “Suri” Cruise.

  • Roy

    mainstreaming = innovation, or the actual application of a certain technology. Nice work Apple!

  • cuate

    If the AI is so far along, why isn’t it in any search engines?

  • Joe Schirmer

    If only Siri responded in Majel Barrett’s voice.

  • JBFromOZ

    don’t get me wrong, I would rather trust my stuff to mobile me, i have a family account membership, and one of the reasons is that I was paying money for this service, instead of the dubious funding sources for hotmail, gmail, imasnail and any of the other “free with catches” privacy concerns, I was raising this query more to see if the reason it needed a link was purely as a resource for responses, or if there was off device processing at mothership going on. there is trust sure, but how far should it extend?

  • Gone Full Retard

    Appception?

  • Rudolf

    Android:

    1.Flash
    2.Bluetooth file transfer
    3.Memory card slot
    4.Mass storage mode

    Now cry ;)

  • jayoen

    You bet you are. Out of maybe 20 people I see on a phone call in public, 1, if lucky, will be cupping their hand like you described. 

  • Doctor007

    This is exactly what happens with many breakthroughs. A lot of people laugh it off as nothing major or nothing new, and then it causes a huge shift in human society, which is when even the naysayers are forced to admit its significance.
    It’s only a matter of time before some of you realize how huge this is. And it’s just the beginning.

  • Nick Wheals

    Ask Wolfram Alpha if it would like to marry Siri and it says ‘yes please!’

  • Xtattsbox

    Really interesting article.  Really, really interesting comments… For all of the Android users, had a company not come up with a Touch Screen Mobile device that was able to integrate simply into our daily lives and do it better than any other device before it, we would be still messing around with push button phones and PDA’s with screens that don’t really work.  If a company is able to bring to a mobile device, technology that will allow you to talk normally to it and it understands, you must be able to realise that will change the way all companies deal with Voice technology forever.  

    Got a car with voice dialling / activation…. ever had an argument with your car because it is trying to set the SatNav to send you half way across the world when all you want to do is phone home?  

    I have purposely not used the name Apple, but if you are so naive to believe that Siri isn’t big and will change the way we use mobile devices forever, can I suggest you get your VCR out of the garage and dust of the tapes… you ain’t ready for the 21st Century….

  • Pauly

    If I had Flash on my iPhone I would be crying for sure.  ;)

  • Jintli

    ??????????

  • ZhenyaK

    How is this possibly true? All the calcs are done serverside?

  • Darren Swanson

    Just because you no longer memorize everything, doesn’t mean you are dumber. I read a research paper similar to yours that takes the opposite approach. We aren’t “getting dumber” as you put it, but instead we are learning to offload some information. Our brains are actually getting better at remembering the specific area in which to find the information that we have offloaded (i.e. the file in the subfolder within the folder, etc.). As Einstein put it, “never memorize anything you can find in a book.” I believe that logic can easily expand to computers and the internet.

    P.S. I still find it easy to memorize combinations of numbers such as locker combinations or passwords. I still have my middle school ID number memorized for gosh sakes!

  • Darren Swanson

    I see what you did there…

  • Darren Swanson

    If it had Morgan Freeman’s voice, I would throw my Droid out the window and buy an iPhone 4S today!

    Well… Preorder one today…

  • Darren Swanson

    Damn, they pimped your iPhone!

  • Darren Swanson

    As far as this Siri thing is concerned, I see it as evolutionary, not revolutionary. I’ll start by admitting that I’m in the Android camp. I do find Siri to be very cool, though. It’s a step above Android Voice Commands, yes. But, as I see it, it seems like AVC mixed with Wolfram Alpha (which is freaking amazing by the way) and given a few more applications to access. So, Apple has done a good job of mixing technologies here, making it look pretty, and generating a lot of hype for it. Which is what Apple does. And you’re right, my mom would use that.

  • Asd

    Agreed. Its a nice marketing triumph to get this out the door first, but I’ve seen these open vs closed system battles before…how long till Android gets this?

  • nicojr2005

    Tell them that iOS actually has something similar to Android’s Voice Control whis is called Voice Command and it’s been there way before Siri existed. When you use it, you can even hear the same voice and tones that Siri uses. Just hold down your home button until you hear that familiar tone that Siri uses when she/he’s activated.

  • Reddy Vittal

    Good marketing article for Apple iphone.

  • printinghost

    Its a great thing to market a product,with this I have an idea to do more for advertising of vinyl sticker printing

  • snoozeville

    smarterchild 2.0

  • Ilzaer

    Android Voice Actions can’t do anything like this because it’s voice command software, not artificial intelligence. Why the comparison?

  • Jesse Lopez

    Yes you can

  • Jesse Lopez

    Yes you can go an watch the demo on the web since you do not have an Android phone.

  • Jesse Lopez

    Siri was just a mediocre app in the apple store while it was on sale for all apple devices.  It is not any better now.

  • Jesse Lopez

    I predict Siri dead in 1 year when Google blocks all searches that it detects come from Siri which is trying to bypass their advertising model. All Siri is a fancy and very well designed voice recognition program. Its knowledge is on the cloud, and most of it, in google’s servers. RIP Siri

  • mjsharpe

    I’ll admit Siri’s AI is quite impressive, but other than context threading, Siri really doesn’t seem any better than an app like Speaktoit, which is just as capable of understanding nautural language requests – AND Speaktoit actually works properly outside of the US AND Speaktoit can actually launch and interact with third party apps.  Siri has lots of potential, but a long way to go.

  • Lala

    Translates as: Very interesting read until you started predicting things again. I think we all know that it’s best if you keep your predictions and [rumours] to yourself. Because you talk shit and are always wrong.

    (I know, I know his language is much more concise than ours)

  • Mates

    you know, i realy like siri for what it is, but:

    1. it is not AI.2. usability in real life – crowded street etc.ad 1:for AI, it should be self aware… it may look like it is, but what it actualy does is just processing data.
    your question/task is put in a written form -> its beeing searched for keywords “today, schedule….” -> then it tries to find corresponding answer based on your querry

    yes, it does recognize what you were talking about before, but just last one or so questions.
    and that is not that hard.you: tell me about paris.siri: facts from wiki/wolfram(qerry tags this something likewhere:”paris”what:”facts”etc….)you: what is the weather there?siri now gets keyword “weather” and it knows it need a location -> keyword “there”, reads what was the previous Q about – > where: paris and you get the answerthis is not AI at all.2. i dont know, couldnt test it yet but i would like to see how it performs in a street where tons of people are talking… or a wind, traffic….as my university has a project with voice recognition (and its beeing currently used for helpdesk purposes by few companies – > and it automaticly answers you ;)) I hope to have a little insight.also, what siri brought is more like integration to system, because something like this existed for a some time on both iOS and android.I played with similar apps an year ago, they worked, but the couldnt do as many things as siri.dont get me wrong, i admire how it work, but i have learned not to trust everything you see.People dont see, what apple does is not quite inventing, but making the invention usable. But both parts are of the same importance ;)

  • Lolo

    Actually all he said was, “What are we to do without a Chinese version (of Siri)?”

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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