The Next OS: Why Siri’s iPhone 4S is a Major Milestone

The Next OS: Why Siri’s iPhone 4S is a Major Milestone
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The new Apple’s iPhone 4s released October 14th was almost a disappointment for those who were expecting a new flamboyant iPhone 5. Yet, this new release embeds probably a major milestone in the computer and phone industry which is probably still perceived as a gadget. Siri is not just a voice recognition software; it’s also an intelligent software able to understand requests in natural language. What was a distant dream for Artificial Intelligence thirty years ago became a reality today with devices able to recognize speech patterns and provide answers according to a context.

Siri is a spin-out from the SRI International Artificial Intelligence Center, and is an offshoot of the DARPA-funded CALO project, described as perhaps the largest artificial-intelligence project ever launched.

But the iPhone 4s may be just a start. Soon, Apple will probably replace the Speech (Voice Over) feature of the Mac OS X by Siri, allowing users to interact for instance, with their iMac and iPads. The use may even be extended to any other devices, portable or not. Siri may end up in your car, TV and any other electronic appliance. The idea is to transform the regular user-machine interactions into something smoother which will turn eventually these machines into personal assistants. I have the feeling that Siri will be one of the building blocks of the so called Web 3.0, the Semantic Web, allowing not only an intelligent interaction between humans and machines, but also between the machines too.

The software probably requires an online connection because of the large amount of computing power required to enable a real time natural speech processing as stated by its founder Norman Winarsky in an interview to 9to5mac: “…I can say that AI takes a lot of computing power. The Siri software needs to cache data, needs to access a big dataset at wide bandwidth and needs a big processor to crunch all of the numbers. When we originally released Siri for the iPhone 3GS, we had to perform all kinds of optimizations and shortcuts to get it to work efficiently. All I can say is that it will likely run much better on a faster phone.”

According to its founder, Siri seems also well ahead, of other technologies with partial AI enabled apps like Google Voice Actions, Vlingo or Nuance Go. This will definitely provide a major time to market advantage to Apple.

Underneath, A video of Siri’s founder at Semantic Web in 2008 just before Siri went public provides more insight on the technology’s potential.

Photo Credits:
Siri HAL-9000 By AcidZero / FlickR
288/365 By Will Hastings / FlickR