Between the introduction of the iPhone 4S and the tragic news regarding the death of Steve Jobs, Apple fans and tech followers in general had a lot to think about over the last week or so. Unfortunately, one of the most important things Apple has accomplished in a long time managed to largely slip by unnoticed amidst the more pressing news. Siri, the new and improved personal assistant app from Apple, is certain to go down into history as an inaugural technology as memorable as the iPod or iPhone itself. It won’t be long before even the most basic of prepaid cell phone is going to be carrying around Siri or something similar.
Siri was originally created by California defense contractors who had little use for voice recognition and speech learning algorithms they had created for the military, who wasn’t interested. Sensing an obvious opportunity, Apple bought Siri and quickly got to work figuring out a way to apply it to the iPhone. Foreseeing the importance of speech recognition technology in the future of smartphone sophistication, Apple not only wanted to be ready for it, they wanted to provide the world with the ideal example. Projecting the possibilities of competitors, Apple knew that they would be able to introduce something that was more than novelty, but was in fact revolutionary.
Siri is capable of processing an enormous variety of voice commands, which is proven by the specificity of successful commands. For example, you can casually ask Siri to “find the best BBQ in town,” and the app will politely inform you that it has pulled up the information of several BBQ restaurants with highly rated reviews in the general area. But more importantly, Siri learns as it goes, taking into account the natural inflections of the human voice and common stammers that otherwise throw off smartphone voice recognition software. The seemingly highly intelligent nature of the responses is a radical new twist that comes straight out of science fiction.
Just ask Google, the only other big boy on the block with a heavy hand in voice recognition technology for mobile devices. The voice recognition inherent with their Android devices is innovative and original, yet it’s not effectively utilized in any sort of concise way. To vocally search for videos you must go into the Youtube app. To vocally assemble an email you must open your email browser, or clearly command your device to do so through the Google search browser. All the while, their technology struggles to truly effectively make lives easier: transcription mistakes are commonplace and can only be amended with typed edits.
Meanwhile, Apple their time and placed voice activation technology under the umbrella of a single app dubbed Siri. It gives the technology an identity, but more importantly it gives it a definitive purpose. But not only that, Apple introduced it as an easy-to-reference marker of artificial intelligence evolution. That’s what’s going to truly make Siri shine in the years to come. Much like the iPod is synonymous with Mp3 player, Siri will soon be synonymous with artificial intelligence.
Considering all the ongoing internal drama, Apple played their hands-free hand well.