Siri and the AI Revolution

10/14/2011 8:57:33 AM

Siri and the AI Revolution

With natural user interfaces (like touchscreens and microphones) and sensory rich devices (like GPS and cameras) rapidly become mainstream due to the rise of smartphones and tablets alongside growing acceptance of speech recognition, augmented reality and now the conversational UI in the form of Siri, there’s been growing predictions of a coming AI revolution in the computer industry.

In an interview with 9to4mac, Norman Winarsky, cofounder of Siri, predicted before the iPhone launch that the Siri Assistant would be a world-changing event. The other cofounder Tom Gruber, former Siri CEO, articulated the underpinnings for this change in his Jan 2010 Web 3.0 conference keynote, “Big Think Small Screen: How semantic computing in the cloud will revolutionize the consumer experience on the phone.”

After the iPhone launch, there is still widespread skepticism about the practicality of Siri and conversation interfaces given the past failures of speech and handwriting recognition software, but I believe that Apple has placed an indelible germ in people’s minds that will continue to grow in coming years that will manifest itself into new products and expectations. I would not be surprised, if Siri, in future versions, morph into an animated person as in the Knowledge Navigator videos.

Siri is also born in the right age, where mobile devices that can wirelessly connect to servers, maintain a copy of user’s important information and contacts, and retrieve context like geolocation and where third-party services like Yelp for businesses, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, and Wolfram Alpha for general facts abound on the semantic and social Web. There is also ample memory and computing resources available within a mobile device; natural languages assets have accumulated over time; the web has also offered a rich amount of information for data mining and machine learning. In a mobile device designed to host phone conversations, speech may even be the most convenient form of input, since the keyboard is so small and the relevant application, if there is one, may be several clicks away.

With developments such as Watson, Siri, natural user interfaces, real-time Google translations, AI might finally be here.

I am somewhat worried, though, since my entire business strategy is based on AI technologies and the giant software companies are coming in.

In a presentation of my business plan in 2002 for a natural language software company, one feedback that I received was that AI is a dead end with allusions to massive failures in the 1980s with Japan’s Fifth Generation Project. I was amused, not worried. AI is a big field. I am familiar with those failed projects which involved Prolog and expert systems but have very little relationship to the work that I am doing of which I already produced proofs of concept. A fellow business school classmate who helped with my business plan could not comprehend that a computer could truly understand natural language, offering up arguments as to why it was impossible. How quickly, times change.

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SoftPerson develops innovative new desktop software applications by incorporating artificial intelligence and natural language technologies to bring human-like intelligence to everyday applications.

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