Three weeks ago Apple released the iPhone 4S to great fanfare. I ordered one and have enjoyed using it. The most fascinating feature of the 4S is something that may well take on a life of its own well beyond this iPhone. That feature is Siri, a virtual assistant that can perform simple commands such as scheduling appointments, placing calls and answering basic questions, all through the power of our voice.
The technology is far from perfect and this is shown by the fact that Apple uncharacteristically attached a “Beta” label to the software. Rather than being evidence of a rush job by Apple, I think it shows that this type of technology will only improve as people use it and put it through its paces. Rest assured (or not!) that Apple is tracking how people are querying Siri to better refine the system. Just recently an update was released that included better voice recognition for Australians, who’s pronunciation was difficult for Siri to understand.
I’m impressed by how well the technology can recognize my voice and while it isn’t perfect, even human beings don’t understand one another all the time, so I can’t complain.
Siri is basically the first interaction of humans with artificial intelligence (A.I.). All Terminator and Hal 9000 jokes aside, I think we’re at the beginning of a fascinating new path of interaction between humans and machines. A path that will see machines not only be able execute simple commands but to use logic to answer our questions, as Siri already does at the most basic level.
I have no illusions about the limits of AI because in the end machines don’t have souls like humans, so I can’t get too sentimental, but I wouldn’t mind having an R2-D2 or C-3PO around!
One thing that I would like to see in Siri is the ability to input information to the system that could then be retrieved later. For example, I should be able to tell Siri “my best one-mile run is six minutes, nineteen seconds”. Later I should be able to ask, “what is my best one-mile run time?” This is just an example, but I think it would be a wonderful next step in organizing and retrieving information that’s important to us.
If it worked well, would you prefer voice recognition instead of typing out information and commands? Would you answer differently for a phone, a computer or even a TV?