Friday, October 28, 2011

Siri is a Game-changer

A couple months ago I was catching up with an old friend. He kind of flattered me for a few minutes. He said, "you have been able to call certain industries while we were growing up. You had a first generation iPod and told your friends that this was going to be huge. You told everyone the iTunes Music industry was going to cause a paradigm shift. Years before Halo was released you said it was going to be a big game in the gaming industry, it ended up becoming one of the most successful gaming franchises in the history of gaming. You called the iPhone and phone revolution that it caused. What's next? What is the next game-changer?"

I do not presume to be able to call shifts in industry. However, for a month or so I have been considering something that I think will be a game-changer. Many of you are already familiar with a new feature on Apple's iPhone 4s called Siri 'Personal Assistant'. This is one of the biggest steps in computer-human interaction that has happened in literally years. Computer-Human Interaction is going mainstream… this is not the only step that is so big here. First, I would like to provide a little more context.

Computer-Human Interaction and Artificial Intelligence are way more complex than most probably ever suspect. To illustrate I will share an excerpt of one of my favorite podcasts RadioLab,

["If a computer were a person you can imagine someone sitting in your living room and you say… can you hand me that book?
It would say, "no because there is a coffee cup on it".
"Okay, well, pick up the coffee cup and hand me that book."
It says no, "I can't do that because now I am holding the cup."
"Okay, put down the cup, then pick up the book…"

You quickly learn, said Bryan, that really simple human behaviors are made up of a thousand subroutines, I mean if you really think about it the book task requires: knowing what is a book. You have to learn about elbows and wrists. How to grab something… know about gravity. If it is a machine you have to teach… it Physics… everything in the world for it to pick up a book."] (Clever Bots - Radio Lab - 2006)
Now coupling Naunce Speech Recognition software, Siri's artificial intelligence, Wolfram Alpha, and the web Apple has been able to create a powerful assistant.

If you go to Apple's website and look at the information about Siri you will notice a yellow tag in the top left corner that says "Beta". Apple rarely releases Beta software to the public, so you might be asking why Apple did this time around. You may suggest that it was to sell more of their new iPhone 4S. However, that would be shortsighted although no doubt true. However selling more iPhones is just the tip of the iceberg.

Introduction to Clever Bot. This is an A.I. that was designed by Rollo Carpenter, it was designed to learn intelligence by communicating with other humans. At first Rollo developed this AI offline. He and his buddies communicated with A.I. and as they did, it learned more and more. In 1997 Rollo launched his A.I. on the worldwide web. This resulted in an explosion of learning for the A.I. Today it has had more than 65 million conversations. This means that Cleverbot has a lot of data it can pull human questions and human responses from, using it's algorithm. Rollo said,"talking to Cleverbot is a little like talking with the collective community of the Internet." If you chat with Cleverbot you will see that this is really true.(It is like a time capsule). In fact there is an A.I. Contest held every year where A.I. programmers pit their A.I.s against judges that try to determine if they are A.I. or Human. This test is called the Turing Test named after Alex Turing who is considered to be the father of A.I. He had said that if A.I. ever reached the point where it could fool a person 30% of the time, it will have gained some degree of thinking. We have surpassed that even with Cleverbot. At the last contest it achieved with the judges guessing it was human 59.3% of the time. That is greater than a 50/50 guess. This is pretty amazing!

I bring up Cleverbot because like the web produced incredible learning to the A.I. in a short time. You better believe that Apple is collecting large quantities of data from it's beta run with Siri. Million's of Siri requests every single day. This will allow the Siri team to improve the A.I. from what I have seen Siri is really already very functional. I would estimate that with two or three years Siri will ubiquitous and a feature that people wonder what they ever did without it.

Speaking of ubiquity, can I make some other predictions? I predict that Apple will include this technology in all of their Mac lineup and all of their home entertainment offerings. (iPod, Apple TV, and the rumored Apple Television set.) "Siri, can you check to see if Stranger Than Fiction is on Netflix streaming? If it is streaming can you put it on the television before we get home?" I believe that this is feature is not long off.

And one last thought and question that I am still really wondering about. Is Siri possibly an inroad Apple will use to get into search market? Is this push of computer to human interaction a vehicle to make search more human and more interactive? I guess we will see over the next few years. I think if you look at the strategic pieces that have been positioned over the last couple years, it could be possible. (Construction of huge data center, iCloud, and all the Siri related technologies, iAd mobile advertising platform designed by Apple, mapping company purchases.)(I used statistics from the RadioLab podcast mentioned above, wikipedia)
Update 11/08/2011: "Google chairman Eric Schmidt has told a U.S. Senate antitrust subcommittee that Apple’s Siri personal assistant is a potential threat to its core search business. The admission reverses a statement that Schmidt made in September last year where he had said that Apple did not pose a ‘competitive threat.’ Schmidt argued that the arrival of Siri is a ‘significant threat’ and even cited two publications that have called the voice recognition app a ‘Google killer.’" (excerpt pulled from electronista article)

I think this validates some of what I discussed. It doesn't verify that it will grow to be what I think it could. However, it does show that other industry leaders think that it could potentially blossom in the direction that I have discussed. Time will tell...


NessaAnn said...

I think you are right on with this one, Brit. I haven't historically been a Mac fanatic like some of you are, but I'll agree with you whole-heartedly on this. They are ahead of the game here. The future is intelligence and you are absolutely right that they are collecting the vast amount of human interactions necessary to have true AI. So cool! Also, LOVE that podcast.

Britton Stanfill said...

I am honestly really excited to see how this technology will be developed and applied over the next few years. Thanks for your comment V! :o)