The demo isn't a virtual assistant. Its a glorified search engine with API integration and voice recognition.
My vision of a virtual assistant is that you would be able to say: "Book dinner with Ross and David next week", and the only other interactions you have with the agent are "You're going to that Indian you and Ross like on Tuesday at 7" or "Can't be done, how about Monday the week after?", and possibly a message when you use your calendar "Trying to book David and Ross for dinner this evening" on some days the assistant has picked out. Meanwhile, Ross and David get e-mails that appear to be from you in address, tone and content, suggesting dates and places. If they have assistants too, maybe they don't see them; if they don't, then they can reply and the assistant understands them.
That's the sort of thing a PA actually does; they don't Google the flights for you, they know your diary, your preferences and your needs and they book the right damn flight. Your phone should be saying "Walk out of your office at 2pm and get into the cab that'll be waiting. At the airport, walk to check-in desk 301 and hand me over. I'll take it from there."
The predictions, especially with regard to leveraging data in Facebook sound closer, so I'm waiting eagerly.
Although no doubt meant for comedic effect, I would love a service like this. It basically offloads decision analysis to a computer which formulates and acts based on what works and what's considered best. A helpful guiding hand if you like.
I'm waiting for the day when I can focus on more interesting problems than reserving hotel rooms in 10 cities, going back and forth with booking agents trying to figure out when I need to be in each city, or having to micromanage the fluctuating schedules of my band just to organize a rehearsal.
Lots of people currently tour the world performing music that is partly algorithmic, where aspects of the performance are determined by (usually simple) AI algorithms. This is normal. The crowd doesn't know, and those that do know think it's cool.
When we get to the point where AI can make good music on its own without direction, we will have a lot bigger questions to worry about than the fate of musicians. It won't be a pressing issue.
Absolutely. "Creativity as a service". I envision a lot of startups in the near future revolving around this model.
Maybe we'll plug into a facebook-like universal AI-api (by apple?), and build 'creativity generator' apps that use chunks of hyper-personal data.
How is that a different experience to listening to recorded music though? You could argue that new music could be generated on the fly but that isn't particularly exciting either, generally when a band plays something no one has heard before live it is a lot worse an experience than hearing the songs you know and love from the band.
Amen brother. Honestly, as I said in the post, I truly believe this could be a new natural user interface. Just as touch interfaces have been all the rage in the tech world since made mainstream in the first iPhone in 2007, Assistant will bring AI to the mainstream in a way that will finally be useful and relevant to most people at most times.
People are already non-functional in the real world. That is, a world without houses and supermarkets. A virtual assistant will not change the dependence on technology and society radically, it will only add to it a little.
Yes, the demo is old, but I think the direction of "it searches for this, this and this" is weak. It'll be too easy for them to have focused on integrating more services. Actually handling something like dinner organising or flight booking has its own foibles and caveats, and while I believe it can be done, I think the best way to start doing it will be focus.
I'd pay for a tool that helped me organise social events without the irritating e-mails. Take Doodle: all it does is polls for dates, and it doesn't handle diary integration, contact integration, negotiation of possibilities, or choosing the place as well as the time. Despite those shortcomings, its a successful company. That's where I see an agent actually working.
Interesting concept, I never even considered Apple offering additional Assistant features as a premium service. Imagine if you paid an additional $4.99 a month through iTunes for a Assistant Pro app that had greater power. Would you pay for that?
Can anyone upvoting this please explain what objective information they got out of this post? All I read was marketing speak in bold and caps, with no new information on why people might actually use this.
I'm obviously not doubting the potential, since I haven't seen the app yet, but this article is terribly low on substance.
I wrote the post, so I should probably answer you. :)
Honestly, after watching the 45 minute presentation, there were a ton of interesting tid bits I transcribed word for word (that's what you see in all the quotes and the video is embedded if you prefer that).
For skimming purposes, I tried to bold the most important bits in the quotes, so it was straight from Siri's Co-Founder, CTO and VP of Design, Tom Gruber's mouth.
Honestly, skimming through the article quickly myself (it took me 3 hours total to write including watching the 45 minute keynote and transcribing the important bits) I can't see how you think it is low on substance, because there is a ton of it in there.
I'm honestly fascinated to see if Apple open's up the Assistant API to 3rd party developers as the Siri team clearly planned to pre-acquisition. In my mind it makes a lot of sense given the new "verb" world Facebook introduced, and I think developers would have a ball with it.
I don't mean to belittle anyone's achievements, but this is what I got from the bold parts of your article:
The technology came out of a government funded project on which hundreds of people worked.
It's iterations ahead of the market and so it's real AI with real use.
It will be useful to most people most of the time.
It can't understand languages other than English.
It can't answer relationship questions.
It may have an open API, in the future.
It may allow you to pay for things, in the future.
It may use social data, in the future.
I guess I'll just wait for the actual release to see why and how this is world-changing. If the product is truly world-changing, I don't think anyone can do justice to it with a blog post. Imagine if people tried to explain Google the search engine like this.
My goal with this post was simply to raise interesting questions based on what the Siri team saw as the future of the product back in 2008, so it could frame all of our discussion and analysis when you watch the keynote with Apple tomorrow.
I think it will be fascinating to see what, if any, of these questions Apple has decided was worth tackling since they acquired the product, and which in the eyes of Jobs, were important and useful enough for the masses.
If I have a slow connection, it'll be equally slow regardless of the app. So the speed comparison is on top of that.
Amazon Silk-like technology may make sense for ecommerce content (yet to be seen), but it doesn't make sense for complex search queries. The longest time is probably spent in understanding the query and ranking results, not in downloading the content of the results. For the same reason, local caching makes no sense, except for some personal data, which Google also has access to (openly or secretly).
I'll admit straight-up that I haven't looked at any of the Siri presentations, so I don't know what is and isn't possible with it, but the simple fact of the matter is that AI like it's being pitched ("reasoning", ever-learning, fast and flexible to respond to natural language input) takes an obscene amount of RAM, computing power, and persistent storage to be any good. There's not a chance that this is going to be an inherent feature of the iPhone 5 - it might be a "cloud" feature that the iPhone uses, but if it's as good as the rumormongers are making it out to be, we're talking datacenters worth of hardware, not one phone's worth.
It'll be interesting to see what's actually announced, but I'm having a really hard time swallowing the idea that Apple's putting a Star Trek AI on a phone.
Norman Winarsky, the man who put together the original Siri team, was asked what kind of power the Siri AI takes and if it could have delayed the iPhone today on 9to5mac.com, saying:
Norm: I’m not familiar with Apple’s roadmap and any delays but 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. (Source: http://9to5mac.com/2011/10/03/co-founder-of-siri-assistant-i...)
There is a big jump in performance from 3GS to even iPhone 4, let alone iPhone 5 with possible A5 processor (dual core), 1GB RAM, iOS optimization, cloud performance, and network performance--and that's not even considering if the Sprint iPhone 5 exclusive is true which would mean the device runs on a 4G network that would make this type of interaction even more interesting if interacting with the cloud in some way.
And you could totally see Apple pitching this to AT&T and Verizon and they're going "Crap, people already hate our data caps, and we already hate all the data iPhones use..." and then Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse comes running over to Jobs "Steve! We'd LOVE to handle that! We can do it! I swear, trust me. We have 4G! It's blazing fast...give us a shot...please?" Hands over $20.5 billion dollars...
A lot of pie in the sky speculation based off a three year old talk there. Especially since I am sure an Apple acquisition wasn't on the road map at the time. But my answers to his questions would be:
* Will Assistant be world-changing?*
No. But it will probably be a damn good feature.
Will it address foreign languages/cultures
Probably, since Nuance can do a fairly impressive number of languages and all signs is Apple is partnering with them.
No. God no.
open task API
Maybe, but I would be a little surprised.
Now we are just throwing buzz words together. Want to know why the "speech to text world" is "untapped"? Cause it is made up. Plus it would essentially be either a search ad or affiliate marketing situation, neither of which seem very Apple-like.
Facebook social knowledge
Again, doubtful. I mean, they've gone out of their way to integrate Twitter in iOS 5, which reeks of Facebook and Apple not coming to terms. But maybe they banged out a last minute deal.
I am sure Assistant be like most Apple features. Fairly impressive, a bit more detail oriented than the competition, but ultimately not that much better. If anything, I think it will be the new Facetime. Good demo, good for ads, some people will use it a bunch, but mostly a showy feature that will get used once and then ignored by the vast majority of users.
"I am sure Assistant be like most Apple features. Fairly impressive, a bit more detail oriented than the competition, but ultimately not that much better. If anything, I think it will be the new Facetime. Good demo, good for ads, some people will use it a bunch, but mostly a showy feature that will get used once and then ignored by the vast majority of users."
To me, this is exactly what it will be. Even if it does work a lot better than Android and Windows Phone 7, I can't imagine too many times where I'd be using it. I haven't used the voice features on my Android/WP7 devices very often, not because it doesn't work well enough, but because 99% of the time I use my phone I'm somewhere that I don't want to be saying commands out loud into my phone. They may solve the technical problem, but the social one will hold it back.
I can definitely see why you'd think this could go the way of Facetime, but its completely different. Why? Because while Facetime seemed to solve a problem we all wanted solved, in reality its simply not practical to video call someone with a mobile phone a lot of the time. If I'm on the go, walking a city or driving in the suburbs, Facetime is a terrible idea.
Assistant is exactly the opposite. It's almost essential in those situations and extremely practical. I can pretty much see Oprah endorsing this feature alone in her anti-texting-while-driving campaign now.
And YOU get an iPhone Assistant, and YOU get an iPhone Assistant...
The voice recognition on my Android phone is marvelously useful while driving; I hold my search button, say "navigate to Schlotzsky's", and it pops up a map, finds the nearest Schlotzsky's, plots directions to it, and I'm off. No hunt-and-pecking on a keyboard without tactile feedback, no navigating through twelve menus or trying to remember how to spell "Schlotzsky's". It's an awesome feature, and it's something that the iPhone needs to at least match.
What's Apple going to do beyond that, though? They can't build a keynote on "Hey, now we have this feature that our competitor has". It has to be something bigger and better. Android exposes speech input backed by Google's unfathomable processing power and recognition dataset to every application that wants to use it; what can Apple put on a phone that will be significant enough to not be a "me too"?
I wouldn't be so sure about state-of-the-art natural lang processing & speech recognition systems being good enough, for Apple (given their track record) to pitch a complete virtual assistant as a software service (VAAS?).
The ideal AI assistant would be entangled with copious amounts of machine learning algorithms. And it'd have to be plugged into my email, sms's, phone convos, facebook, twitter etc.
The AI would have to evolve not just from my experiences, but the collective experiences of the ecosystem (privacy alert!).
There's way too many dangling variables here -- privacy implications, govt. regulation, software error (30%+ for state of the art natural language processing) etc.
Yet, I've gotta say I'm stupidly giddy about today's keynote.
What I find hard to understand is that Google who has been working on the voice recognition for ages and has actual products out there and enormous data, still struggles with quality in this area. How can everyone put so much trust on Siri that it would change the paradigm when it's hardly tested in the market.
In my opinion it all stems from the trust on Apple. Apple has the reputation that they don't ship half-products and with the rumours going strong that Siri would be part of iPhone 5, everybody is simply jumping on the bandwagon and _assuming_ that Apple has solved the voice recognition problem.
As much as awesome Apple is, I still find it hard to believe that they have figured out voice-recognition.
Actually Siri is based off arguably more time, research and possibly funding than Google may have thrown at this particular problem.
As I quoted from 9to5mac in my post:
"In 2003, the US Government began the most ambitious Artificial Intelligence program in its history called the “Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes” or CALO program. The name was inspired by the Latin word “calonis”, which means “soldier’s servant”. Funded by DARPA as part of its Personal Assistant that Learns project, the program ran for five years and brought together more than 300 researchers from 25 of the top university and commercial research institutions, with the goal of “building a new generation of cognitive assistants that can reason, learn from experience, be told what to do, explain what they are doing, reflect on their experience, and respond robustly to surprise.
The program was coordinated through SRI International in Menlo Park, CA. As the program ended in 2007, SRI took the knowledge gained by the CALO and some of its key players and formed Siri."
If they do release it, it will probably be a brain-dead version of it. It's not like Apple hasn't release products that aren't fully-fledged in the past. Sure, the parts of it that they put together will have all of the polish of an Apple product, but it may not be the whole she-bang that people are expecting.
Siri has been out on the iPhone for at least a year and while impressive, I don't believe qualifies as game-changing (it couldn't, for example, tell me what the average velocity of an unladen swallow was). I'm wondering if there've been any breakthrough(s) after they were acquired?
Currently, Siri is just a question-answer machine. While it's very good at this, a personal assistant needs to be more than that. I think the next stage in the evolution is tapping on your personal information, having a memory, and being able to have a contextual dialog. All this should be implemented fluidly.
Me: "Siri, what's up today?"
Siri: "You should have lunch with Sarah at 5 p.m"
Me: "Make a reservation at that Chinese restaurant which we were in last time"
I feel like you could have made the same statement about the CRAZY idea of a touchscreen smart phone back in 2007...and then Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone and everyone went...well I guess that does work flawlessly.
Not trying to sound like a fanboy, but simply saying I think Apple's recent track record has proven they're pretty good at releasing products that work flawlessly.
Heck, this could have been the simple reason Siri (now Assistant) was acquired way back in 2008 and is only now coming to light in an iPhone. Jobs may have simply held it back to meet your expectations of him.