February 04, 2010

Siri Brings Artificial Intelligence to the iPhone

For decades, many have dreamed of having a virtual assistant to answer our questions and do our bidding. Through advances in artificial intelligence, speech recognition and a seemingly endless array of search engines and directories, we are getting ever closer to this fantasy becoming a reality. A new application, Siri, billed as a virtual personal assistant, debuts today on the iTunes store, and promises to be a new way to interact with the mobile Web. The application takes queries from natural speaking, and does its best not just to find the right answer, but the right action as well.

Fueled by SRI International and powered by Nuance's voice recognition capability, Siri comes loaded with hooks to dozens of partners to help bring whatever you have in your mind to your phone.

Siri Sets Up Dinner and Gets You A Meal

While many of us have grown accustomed to making voice searches on Google's mobile application with the iPhone, this functionality, so far, has been limited, acting as a regular text search from the Web or any Internet-connected device. Siri doesn't just search on the terms you enter, but looks to find the correct answer, and put you in position to make a decision based on that answer.

Siri's dashboard makes it clear how to get started. It asks "what can I help you with?", and shows options including restaurants, movies, events, local businesses, taxis and weather. But rather than just having a solid directory, whereby you could click through and find options, you can just talk to the phone. Click the "Say It" button, and ask the phone anything.

Siri Presents Answers If You Ask Just Right

For example, if you ask why the sky is blue, or how old president Obama is, Siri will tap into the Web and find the answers, to the best of its ability.

Also, you can ask for a gourmet French restaurant near you, and it will translate what you have asked to words it can use, such as "expensive", and translate near you to restaurants in a nearby geographical area.

Directions and a Taxi to Pick You Up

Ask Siri what movies nearby are showing Avatar, and it will tell you. Tell it to get you a pair of tickets to the 5:30 showing, and it will start that process.

Siri didn't try to reinvent the Web by setting up dedicated services for each of its functions, connecting to a vast network of partners to bring their content to the iPhone. In tests, I could find schedules of events at popular sporting arenas, could call a cab to pick me up at a specific location, or see how far away I was from locations on a Google map.

Movie Tickets and Sporting Events on Siri

Siri works best with fast phones and fast Web connections, as you can guess, given it needs to tap into the cloud to get the data, and present it back to you in natural language. The product is optimized for the iPhone 3GS, and works best over WiFi or 3G. You can get it to work on Edge of course, just expect some latency.

Check it out at http://www.siri.com/ or on the iTunes store.