Siri Brings Apple’s Vision Full Circle

By  |  Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm

In 1987, then CEO of Apple John Sculley described a device known as the “Knowledge Navigator” in his book Odyssey. Described in its simplest terms, it was a personal assistant that allowed the user to navigate information in an interactive way. The user would be able to speak in natural language, and the artificial intelligence would reason out the intention of the user. Watch it in action in this vintage Apple-produced video.

As you can see, the interaction is very human-like. The command-based method of interaction –which is so common in the voice recognition platforms of today — is nowhere to be found. This method is just not the way the average person thinks. While us techies may think in this manner, everyday consumerS would be more comfortable talking to the device because they don’t have to remember a set of commands.

This is why voice recognition systems are so frustrating to many. Wouldn’t you rather say, “Siri, schedule an appointment with Tom for 4:30pm on Thursday” versus something similar to “New appointment, Tom, Tuesday, 4:30pm”? I mean, who talks like that?

This is why Siri is such a groundbreaking move in human-to-computer based interaction.

Add to the fact that you can ask questions of Siri that may be outside of what you’d typically think of using voice recognition for, say for something like “how many cups are in twelve ounces?” and it’s almost like having something right out of Star Trek in the palm of your hand.

This is what these voice interaction services are missing. Sure, Windows Phone has it, and Android does something similar. But neither have been able to shake the addiction to the command method of input. Siri–which started as an SRI research project and then became a startup that Apple acquired last year–is a game changer.

While this is only the beginning, Siri could behave even more like Knowledge Navigator over time, and actually anticipate what you’re looking for before you ask for it.

Either way, you have to hand it to Apple. Without Siri, the iPhone 4S would have been a major disappointment when it comes to announcements. But once people get this in their hands, I think its going to be a huge selling point.

This really is revolutionary, and John Sculley deserves a lot of credit for spearheading this concept this some 24 years ago. Were the Apple execs thinking of this video as they took the stage today? They should have been..


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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Jesse Says:

    It competes against Google's voice search.

  2. Max C Says:

    If you don't drive, when could you possibly use it?

  3. Solo Says:

    Ok so let me get this straight. A person talks, TALKS mind you, to siri which creates a text message which then siri reads to the receiver of said text message. The lady then replies to siri with HER VOICE which siri converts into a text message, sends to the other Iphone which then siri translate into audio, reading the text message back.

    Um, shouldn't we just call each other? I mean, am I the only one who sees the irony in this? We are trying to make texting personal buy still staying as impersonal as possible? Yes I get the idea of text to speech and sure, texting has its uses. But seeing it all put together made me shake my head a little.

  4. Paul Says:

    What if the recipient cannot talk on the phone at the moment? That's why we have things like SMS and email – so that we don't have to assume the other party is open to a phone call.

  5. pjs_boston Says:

    The new Siri Assistant in iOS 5 blows Google voice search completely out of the water. Everyone is focussing only on the voice control aspect of this. Although the use of Nuance tech in the assistant means that the speech recognition will be very accurate and robust, this is not the real breakthrough.

    Voice recognition is only useful if it works flawlessly and invisibly. The user must be able to interact with the device as if it is a person.

    The real breakthrough of Siri is the use of artificial intelligence to achieve conversational context awareness and a true natural language interface. Also, by limiting the functionality to the most relevant tasks and fully integrating them with the OS, Apple is poised to create a true revolution in how we actually use our mobile devices in the real world.

    This is big and will be the sleeper hit feature of the new iPhone.

  6. jlee Says:

    While I favor Android to iOS, this development from Apple has me excited. Google Voice search has been stale since its first release with the OG Droid 2 years ago. I'm hoping this wakes up Google to pick this technology up off the shelf and do its own leap forward. As is its ok for driving assistance but has much more potential.

  7. Chris Says:

    Great summary Ed! I curated a Booklyt of related articles for further reading –

  8. Brandon Says:

    What is groundbreaking about this? This is a voiced version of Natural Language Processing. Ask Jeeves had this in 1999, look at what Watson the Jeopardy computer did earlier this year. My Android phone will let me tell it an address, and ViaVoice and Dragon Naturally speaking have been translating voice for years. Please wake me when Apple comes up with something new – as Steve Jobs said "good artists copy, great artists steal".

  9. The_Heraclitus Says:

    I can see very few instances of using something like this. But, mildly interesting…

  10. Reynaldo Says:

    This is just the beginning although voice recognition software is not new time will come when we will all say "Computer computer this or do this" sound very familiar indeed.

  11. Kathy Lombardo Says:

    Although I can appreciate all the various apps and pledges aimed at texting and driving, they're not realistic. If just telling our drivers, especially teens not to text and drive and they listed, we wouldn't have this fatal epidemic taking lives everyday. A "pledge" is this same thing, just in writing. If a someone breaks the "pledge" are the parents going to sue them for breach of contract? I think not, so how is the "pledge" different? For the various "apps" whether one that disables the texting function or one that works via a voice command, one big problem, they only work with newer phones with apps, androids, 4G etc., okay, so what about the other millions of people who have older phones? Text2Go (www.text2go.ORG) a "Call to Text" service allows drivers to keep connected safe and legally and provides a realistic solution. It could also allow you a discount with your auto insurance company, similar to the "good student" discount. 1-855-TEXT2GO or for more information.

  12. Electric Kettles Says:

    Great work !
    I have just bought an Iphone 4s and it is working awesome ! Thanks Apple 😀