01 Dec 2011
As the main feature defining Apple’s IPhone 4S, Siri was always going to cause a stir. Voice recognition technology has been around for years, but has failed to create much buzz in the past. Quite the contrary, the technology has infuriated millions of people as they try to book a cinema or train ticket or contact customer services in an attempt to fix another useless piece of technology. Voice recognition services were considered such a joke, they were even an object of ridicule in the comedy show Fonejacker. Admittedly they have not all been such a monumental fail, IBM released its Voice Type Dictation 3.0 in 1996 and since then numerous others have surfaced, including Androids Voice Actions (available now), which can perform many useful tasks. Despite this, none have had any great impact and are instead just an extra feature on the side. Siri however is not only the defining feature of the IPhone 4S, but a defining feature in technology as a whole, something which will shape our future world.
With thousands of YouTube videos and blog entries showing which funny questions to ask Siri next, the critic might say Siri is simply an entertainment gimmick dressed up in Apple’s sought after packaging; something of no real use we will all grow bored of in a matter of time. After all what makes it so different to Android’s Voice Actions which was available over a year ago? In many ways their abilities are quite similar; both can create text messages and e-mails, get navigation directions, call a contact, view a map of a particular area, write a note, play music and
perform a Web search. This is where their similarities end however.
What’s so special about Siri?
Unlike other voice recognition systems which often require you to memorise certain commands, Siri understands conversational language and can understand questions asked in a number of different ways. Siri is more than voice recognition technology; it is an interactive assistant with artificial intelligence. Siri will check to see if there is a clash in your calendar when you make an appointment and learn who your family members are. What’s more, because it runs on the cloud, Apple has the ability update its responses and phrases meaning Siri will continue to get better over time.
How will Siri change the way we interact with other technology in the future?
Siri is still in the early stages, but its ability to understand conversational speech has changed the way we look at this type of technology. Everyday someone else seems to buy up a voice recognition company and it is no secret that IBM and Google amongst others are working on similar technology themselves – further confirming that this is the future and not simply a passing fad.
Phones, which require text heavy input with a relatively minute keyboard, will be one of the first pieces of technology where voice recognition will become the predominant method of control and interaction. Similarly TV will also begin to go down these lines, with Siri TV set to be released as soon as early 2013. The technology will also be used as a standard in cars, something which can already be seen on a small scale in certain vehicles e.g. Ford’s Sync technology.
This is only the beginning however, hacks have already made Siri turn on a car engine and control a thermostat and this is all before Apple has fully opened up the technology to third-party developers. Once this finally happens, the possibilities will be endless. The Sci-Fi dream of the ‘smart’ home may not be such a far-fetched idea after all. The ‘Internet of things’, or networking of everyday objects and appliances, is already a hot topic at the moment and so it is only a matter of time before it is taken one step further and we are able to control these objects through speech alone. Family members will be differentiated by the sound of their voice meaning appliances will react differently, depending on who is talking.
Paving the way to the future…
In the distant future, everyone might even have their very own Siri robot, able to perform physical as well as online tasks, making tedious daily chores such as housework and bill paying a thing of the past. Alternatively, Siri may simply be a stepping-stone, helping us on our way to further-advanced technology – the idea of being able to control objects simply through our thoughts is no longer an eccentric fantasy of a mad man.
We are obviously many years off of anything like this, but Siri has proved that it is possible to create a voice recognition system that really works and has opened our eyes to other possibilities. All of a sudden, previously outlandish visions seem a genuine possibility.