Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apple Siri. The Butlers are coming

Web2.0 democritised e-publishing and data creation in a friendly way for the masses and low and behold there are 182 million websites available on the net in 2011. Some of these websites have the lions share of the content (Facebook, Flickr, Google, Amazon etc) but collectively it's a grand publish of human thoughts, artefacts, wishes and desires.  What a wonder!

Creating content is one thing but leveraging insights across the content is more difficult. In truth there is still too much information for humans to effectively use and we find ourselves to be a gear in the machine rather than the driver - connecting systems together, cutting, pasting and rekeying.

I want to ask simple questions of my computers and have powerful background processing bring me the answer. Questions like "Which famous guitarists endorse products but don't use them in their live shows?" A query like this would require text analysis of the question to understand the meaning, scouring the net for famous guitarists,  checking which brands they claim to use in endorsements, checking their live 'kit' on websites, picture recognition of what guitars they are using, comparison of statements versus reality and then provide a weighted response based on the volume of data processed. Not easy and lots of key tapping.

Voice Control on the Bat Computer
It won't always be this way.

Batmans computer has been serving him for years (in the fictional world of DC Comics) controlled by his voice helping him fight crime. He simply asks the computer a question while he is driving or smashing heads of supervillans together and his Batcomputer gets back to him with the summary. Questions like  "Cross reference the known toxins that the Joker uses with chemical factories in the vicinity of Posion Ivy's locations over the past three months" are answered with ease. If a clarification is needed then it asks Batman. All achieved using natural language as the interface.

Digital buddies, assistants and advisors are here already for consumers albeit in the form mostly of recommendations engines and advertising systems. helps reduce the millions of bands down to something I might like based on my previous listening while Amazon  advises me of books and products I might enjoy based on my previous activity.

These systems help us save time and slash the options and possibilities down to something we can handle. The volume of data falls below our eye and we can concentrate on the richer questions and answers.

For me the biggest aspect of the new iPhone 4S release was Siri - the virtual assistant. I think that as innocuous as it might appear on the surface (fixing calendars, looking up the weather, setting reminders) it is one of the first believable assistants that interact with consumers in a rich way.

Over time this service will grow to understand your accent, tone of voice and mood. It might voluntarily ask you what's wrong or question your commands if it thinks you are acting irrationally. It will potentially develop it's own personality and it will be answering more and more complex queries. Multiple Siris may even communicate and negotiate with one another to save their 'owners' from corresponding back and forth needlessly. Young children that can't type and older people may begin interacting with computers in richer ways. Siri may begin to find it's way into robots and other household devices outside of mobiles.

It's exciting and this is only the beginning. Others have tried to provide this kind of service but none have had the design and user base that Apple have in order to make it 'stick'.

I'll be watching this one carefully.