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Apple's Siri As Revolutionary As the Mac? 692

hype7 writes "The Harvard Business Review is running an article on Siri, the speech recognition technology inside the new iPhone. They make the case that Siri's use of artificial intelligence and speech recognition is going to change the way we interact with machines. From the article: 'The advantage of using speech over other interaction paradigms is that we have honed its use over thousands of years. It is entirely natural for us to talk to one another. Talking is one of the first things we learn how to do as children. It's second nature for us to ask a colleague or a friend a question and for them to answer the same way. Being able to talk to a phone like it's a personal assistant is something that people are going to get very used to, very quickly. It's a much more natural approach than using a mouse on a desktop. And I highly doubt the impact is going to stop at phones.'"
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Apple's Siri As Revolutionary As the Mac?

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  • Not only... (Score:3, Funny)

    by wsxyz ( 543068 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:28PM (#37707216)
    Not only as revolutionary... It's also just as magical!
    • as written in CAPS.

      (FYI, SIRI is the abbreviation for Sirius XM satelite radio)

      iPhone + satelite radio FTW

  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:29PM (#37707226)

    I've heard from a number of Android users that Android also has voice & language recognition - can anyone comment how it works compared to how Siri's been pushed and demoed?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:32PM (#37707262)

      Voice Actions, it works exactly the same. Maps, Nav, post updates to social, schedules reminders/ calendars. send email / sms. Its been there since the start of 2.3
      Except it doesn't have a fancy interface . it just shows a big microphone icon on the screen and lights up green when you talk

    • by ustolemyname ( 1301665 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:33PM (#37707270)
      Works fine as a speech to text engine, but doesn't infer what you want done from what you said.

      The real issue with it is how much of a dork you look like talking to your phone.
      • by hondo77 ( 324058 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:42PM (#37707372) Homepage

        The real issue with it is how much of a dork you look like talking to your phone.

        Back in the olden days, talking into your phone was all you could do with it.

        • by Tharsman ( 1364603 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:58PM (#37707568)

          The real issue with it is how much of a dork you look like talking to your phone.

          Back in the olden days, talking into your phone was all you could do with it.

          Thats so 2007.

          • by djdavetrouble ( 442175 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:29PM (#37707884) Homepage

            I'll never forget the day when people walking around gesturing and talking to the air apparently stopped being crazy behavior and began to be perfectly acceptable behavior. It was sometime during 1999, right before the internet bubble burst. I miss those days. Now people don't look up from their smart phones to do the things they need to do, such as cross the street, disembark an elevator, talk to their families, etc.....

            • by leenks ( 906881 )

              Around 1999/2000 I remember seeing a guy talking on his phone very loudly about some deal he was handling, while walking out of a major London tube station. Then his phone rang and he couldn't figure out how to answer it. Many people laughed quite loudly.

      • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:52PM (#37707498)

        The real issue with it is how much of a dork you look like talking to your phone.

        Once upon a time, before they became internet terminals, everybody talked into their phone. I hadn't realised it had become so rare!

        You don't have to press the home button and talk into it like a walkie-talkie you know. The proximity sensor will switch Siri on if you put the iPhone to the side of your head, if you're not making a phone call. And you can also operate it via the handsfree kit.

      • by hahn ( 101816 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:09PM (#37707682) Homepage

        Works fine as a speech to text engine, but doesn't infer what you want done from what you said. The real issue with it is how much of a dork you look like talking to your phone.

        Yeah, it's hard to believe people actually talk into a phone...

      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:18PM (#37707766)

        The real issue with it is how much of a dork you look like talking to your phone.

        According to the writeup on wired [] (reprinted at cnn), they already addressed that problem by having you hold the phone to your ear when talking to it (instead of at arms length as when typing into it) to make it look normal.

        (I would imagine this was also done to improve the quality of speech recognition by putting the microphone closer to your mouth.)

        • No, the real issue is now we're training already-smug dorks to give out unconditional orders reflexively and expect them to be followed. How long before they start expecting that to work with humans?
      • how much of a dork you look like talking to your phone

        Yeah what kind of weirdo would talk into a telephone?

      • Others are mocking you, but I think there's an interesting difference between talking into your phone and talking to your phone.

        When I've seen people try to use speech recognition on their phones, it's obvious which one they're doing. And they really do look like dorks. The real advance will be when telling your phone what you want to do is as smooth and as fluid as talking to an assistant on the other end of the phone line.

        Maybe Siri has done that?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:38PM (#37707324)

      Android's 'Voice Actions' can only understand a predefined set of phrases and keywords. Siri can understand very natural language, and even follow context. Siri is far more advanced. But Google has some of the best engineers on the planet. A nice upgrade for Voice Actions will likely come sooner than later.

    • by milbournosphere ( 1273186 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:38PM (#37707328)
      I believe the difference is that Siri incorporates natural language recognition, whereas Android does not. On my Android phone, I still have to navigate to the Navigation app and then tell it where i'm going. With Siri, I imagine that one would simply say 'take me to in-n-out.' It's the same thing with messaging; I need to go to the app, and then press the little mic button. I imagine that one simply has to say 'message so-and-so' with Siri.

      This is what makes Siri revolutionary in my book. Yeah, it's been out in app form for a while now, but this is the first platform to really show off this kind of natural language recognition.

      • by James Carnley ( 789899 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:45PM (#37707420) Homepage

        You don't have to manually launch anything.

        Just start voice search and say "Navigate to McDonalds" and it will launch your navigation app and plot a course to McDonalds for you.

        This also works with your other example: "Text Bob Dole Hey man" will launch your messaging app and put "Hey man" in the message.

        It's pretty neat once you start using it a lot.

        • by Hatta ( 162192 )

          Just start voice search and say "Navigate to McDonalds" and it will launch your navigation app and plot a course to McDonalds for you.

          Nifty. How good is it? Could you say "Navigate to McDonalds or Burger King", and have it find either? Or could you say "Navigate to Fast Food but not McDonalds" and get anything but McDonalds?

      • Correct. Speech recognition has been around since the 1990s. The more sophisticated natural language processing is what's new here. I wouldn't go so far to call it revolutionary yet. It's a possible solution to the "the phone is too frikkin small to use icons/menus" problem. One characteristic of this problem is that on phones, your apps are scattered across multiple pages which you must scroll through to find the one you want. That's not so much the case on the desktop where you have a lot more screen
    • by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:38PM (#37707330)

      PCs have had it for ages too, I tried it 10 years ago... Felt like a dork (and that was all on my lonesome in my room, not in a crowded street), was slower than typing (on a keyboard though, not a touchscreen), and misunderstood me enough to make it a pain.

      It's indeed also on my Android phone, never cared until Siri, tried it out when it seemed to be the next magical thing... dropped it as fast as the first time around.

      From what I've read, Siri might be more accurate and more intelligent, but my guess is, not enough to override the basic dorkiness and inaccuracy of a speech interface.

      • Watch the video []. If it really works like it does in the video, we're talking about a whole new speech recognition experience. Once it's out, you can bet the Apple store will be filled with people putting it to the test.

      • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:01PM (#37707620)

        I had computer graphics on my computer back in 1982. So these modern day "consoles" can't be anything special, eh?

        Every product with speech recognition is not the same, just as every product with graphics is not the same.

        And whilst people might feel dorks talking to a desktop, they're very used to holding a phone up to the side of their face and speaking into it. It's not seemed like a bizarre occupation for many decades.

    • by Taagehornet ( 984739 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:46PM (#37707436)

      Android speech-to-text actually works pretty well. I'm using it now to write this and I find bark bark shaddup I find that it bark bark shut up damnit bark bark don't make me come down there I find that bark bark okay that's it I'm coming down there argh crash thud bark bark bark bark bark bark

      Shamelessly stolen []

      • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:50PM (#37707478)

        Android speech-to-text actually works pretty well. I'm using it now to write this and I find bark bark shaddup I find that it bark bark shut up damnit bark bark don't make me come down there I find that bark bark okay that's it I'm coming down there argh crash thud bark bark bark bark bark bark

        Troubles with the wife?

    • by Drakino ( 10965 ) <> on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:10PM (#37707690) Journal

      (Reply written before most other posts, was distracted by work, going to post anyhow even with some now redundant info. Hope it helps.)

      Android's voice recognition is mostly a search input box, driven by voice instead of text. It's pretty clever how Google built the system, they used voice input from the old GOOG411 number to help adapt it to different languages and accents. For the most part though, it will parse what you say and do the equivalent of "I'm Feeling Lucky" on

      It also does dictation for typing in notes, or other apps. Basically anywhere the keyboard will appear, voice can be used as a dictation input.

      Siri is a step beyond what Google offers, due to the conversational style of input vs just basic voice commands/dictation. You can say "Joanne Moore is my mother" to Siri once. Later, saying "Text Mom that I'll be late for dinner", and Siri remembers mom = Joanne Moore, or whoever. This just scratches the surface, the other power of Siri is the capability to understand questions like "Do I need a raincoat today?". It turns that into a search of the weather at the current location, scanning the days forecast for the possibility of rain. A followup of "what about Saturday?" would cause Siri to recognize this is a followup request, and it would link it to the previous weather query. The logic is in the Siri system, not in a search engine being queried. Minor detail, and either approach can work.

      Google can improve their services on Android by improving what does, and this benefitting web users as well. For Apple, they have to decide what services to tie into. Many queries in Siri are farmed out to Wolfram Alpha. [] has more info on other services it integrates with to try and answer questions. If none of those work, it defaults to running a web search similar to Android.

    • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:49PM (#37708124) Homepage

      I am getting really sick of all the Siri hyperbole. Here are a few facts for people:

      - Siri itself has been around for nearly two years. It was a standalone app available for a long time until Apple purchased the company and pulled it from the app store.

      - Android has had voice recognition built into it that knows 99% of the commands Siri does since at least 2010 (Froyo), and I believe even before that.

      - There is at least one third party company / app (Vlingo) which supports all the commands Siri does *AND MANY MORE*, and is available for ALL PLATFORMS, inclufing Android, Blackberry, iPhones.

      Basically - Siri is neat, but it is NOT new, and it is NOT revolutionary. Calling Siri revolutionary is like calling a touchscreen revolutionary at this point in the game.

      • by Above ( 100351 )

        Apple pretty much is never the first company to do something.

        What Apple is famous for (in recent times) is being the first to do something _well_. They don't ride the bleeding edge, but rather take the bleeding edge tech and polish and hone it until they have something an average Joe would use.

        The world hasn't had enough time with iOS 5 Siri yet. I expect it will be much more polished than anything you mention, but it's simply too soon to tell. Also, I found it telling Apple calls this "Beta" technology

      • by hype7 ( 239530 ) <> on Thursday October 13, 2011 @10:04PM (#37709452) Journal

        This is patently false.

        Techcrunch: [] Yes, others have done voice controls before — even Apple has had them baked into iOS for a few years. But most, including Apple’s previous attempt, have been awful. Others, like Google’s voice services built into Android, are decent. Siri is great.

        In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to hear: “both fill-in-the-blank-Android-phone and the iPhone 4S have voice control functionality”. But that’s like saying both Citizen Kane and BioDome are films. True on paper. Decidedly less true when you have to actually experience them.

        You really have to use it yourself to see just how great Siri actually is. Using it for the past week, I’ve done everything from getting directions, to sending emails, to sending text messages, to looking up information on WolframAlpha, to getting restaurant recommendations on Yelp, to taking notes, to setting reminders, to setting calendar appointments, to setting alarms, to searching the web. The amount of times Siri hasn’t been able to understand and execute my request is astonishingly low. I’ll say something that I’m sure Siri won’t be able to understand, and it gets it.

      • by mollymoo ( 202721 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @03:48AM (#37711150) Journal
        For a moment there I loved you. Something as good as Siri for my humble Nokia? So I downloaded Vlingo and tried it out. It is not the same thing at all. I asked it what my next appointment was - it gave me a Google search of "what is my next appointment". Fucking hilarious.

        I tried the same voice actions from the Apple trailer for Siri:

        It could write a text message to a named contact. That's actually pretty useful.

        I asked it "what's the traffic like around here" and I got... a Google search for "what's the traffic like around here".

        I said "text mom I'm going to be 30 minutes late" and I got... a Google search of what I said. I'm beginning to see a pattern here...

        I tried "is it going to be chilly in San Francisco this weekend?" and I got... you already know what I got. A fucking Google search.

        "Set my timer for 30 minutes" got me... a Google search!

        Based on that all-too-brief test Vlingo does not support all the commands Siri does, at least on my phone; it does not understand natural language very well; does not speak back at all (let alone to refine a query) and has no idea about context.
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:33PM (#37707274) Homepage Journal

    Always the problem with engineering something like Speech Recognition is you'll have to train people to enunciate correctly - though with Siri the opposite may become true, where the LOL, WTF, UR, etc. generation adopt an entirely new dialect to communicate with their devices.

    Thank goodness, for the remaining 10% we'll still have the comedy of a person standing on a street corner yelling at their iPhone. "No! Phone home! ET want PHONE HOME! No! Not Rome! PHONE HOME!!"

  • Hype much? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:34PM (#37707288)

    Apple fans can take comfort from this evidence that while Steve Jobs may no longer be with us in the flesh, he lives on in the hearts of journalists. And the reality distortion field is still fully operational.

  • Inside? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:35PM (#37707296)
    Is it actually inside, or is it like dragon, google, et al where the processing is done in "the cloud"? I'm interested in a non-network solution.
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:38PM (#37707322) Homepage Journal

    But can you actually talk into the mouse?

  • Ben there done that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by strangeattraction ( 1058568 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @06:56PM (#37707548)
    Heard a technology interview on NPR this morning. It was very funny. They kept asking Siri questions it could not answer. Great entertainment. Actually saw the technology a couple of years ago at the Semantic Web in San Jose. It was very funny then too. The problem I have and have always had with this type of thing (hand writing rec, voice rec etc) is that when it gets it right you are amazed when it gets it wrong you are mad. If I type character in my computer by keyboard and the wrong thing shows up on the screen it is my fault. When the computer recognizes the wrong characters it is the machines fault. We expect better behavior from our machines than we do from ourselves.
  • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:06PM (#37707666)
    The guy hasn't even used it yet and he's promising it will change the world?

    The article makes no mention of having tested or even *seen* a Siri-equipped iPhone, yet he claims it will revolutionize the way we interact with electronics just as dramatically as the mouse changed the personal computing experience.

    My favorite example: "Siri, is there any football on right now? When is my team next playing? Could you record it for me?" He's just talking about the same voice-activated, computer-controlled house they've been promising us since 1950. How does he know that yet another random voice recognition program will suddenly make it possible?

    What a bunch of empty drivel.
  • Wildfire did that. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:08PM (#37707680) Homepage

    Listen to this Wildfire demo []. 1990s technology. Used by Orange Mobile. Used a lot of compute power for the 1990s. Cost about $5/day originally; became cheaper by 2005 or so. Bought by Microsoft. Run into the ground. Sold off to a small company, Virtuosity. Still available.

    Way ahead of its time.

  • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:10PM (#37707694)

    The Mac was not really that revolutionary. However it did greatly popularize an existing revolution in graphical user interfaces started by Xerox PARC.

  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:26PM (#37707852) Homepage

    The article makes the common mistake of assuming that since language is optimized for human-to-human communication then it is a preferable form of communication between humans and other entities.

    For starters human-to-human communication has a huge amount of redundancy. We repeat, reinforce, gesture with our hands and gesticulate with our faces to make sure our message is coming across. Mr. Spock wouldn't need all of that repetition, and neither does the computer.

    You don't want to have to tell to the car "can you please apply the brakes now?" it is much easier, and yes, more natural to simply press a button or step on the brake pedal.

    You don't believe me still? Armies all over the world establish a special communication protocol that purposely moves away from natural language communication with all its ambiguities to a command/control sparse language with just the right amount of redundancy to deal with noisy communications.

    Captain: "Right full rudder, degree down angle."
    Pilot: "Right full rudder, degree down angle, sir"

  • by joh ( 27088 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:28PM (#37707864)

    How many people back then actually thought the Mac (or the GUI) would change computing? Well, it certainly did, but for quite a while very many people (among them most of the computer geeks) thought it was an inferior, silly way to deal with computers.

    I think in the long run maybe it won't be Siri as such that will be revolutionary, but natural language recognition of course will change things. Not by controlling a computer as such (this would be as saying that a GUI would revolutionize entering CLI commands by clicking keys on an on-screen keyboard) but by actually interacting with data and data processing resources and networks out there without consciously interacting with a computer at all. The computer will be realized fully only when you aren't aware at all that you're actually using a computer.

    You don't need to praise Apple for what they're doing. I'm just happy that ANYONE has the balls to introduce such technology, even in its humble beginnings, to the masses.

    If you're interested in what Siri can understand and act on: []

    BTW, Siri also kicks in if you just hold the iPhone to your ear without being in a call (via the proximity sensor), which makes using it not as awkward as many seem to think.

  • by hahn ( 101816 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @07:30PM (#37707900) Homepage
    Does anyone else also see this as the potential foundation for the future often-rumored Apple TV? Imagine a TV set that doesn't require a remote control (or perhaps using the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad). All you need to do is talk to it...
    "Record all new episodes of Family Guy."
    "Show a slideshow of my photos from January of this year."
    "What games are on ESPN today?"
    "Turn on when Game of Thrones is on."
    "When is the next NFL game?"
    "Play my Coldplay channel on Pandora"
  • by pbjones ( 315127 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @02:12AM (#37710784)

    'I helped wreck a nice beach' I am hopping that Siri will be better that speech recognition that has been floating around for the last 15+ years, it isn't new. What the young people have missed is the video done by Apple Developers in about 1987 which showed a tablet with great speech recognition, but was Sculley's dream and not Steve's.

  • by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @10:26AM (#37713674)

    Voice recognition is about as stupid as it's always been. People forget that the reason voice recognition didn't catch on in the '80s wasn't because of any lack of accuracy in the recognition side. It was because of lack of accuracy on the voice side.

    So I'll propose the exact same experiment for you today. Take your normal, non voice recognition smartphone, and give it to your friend. Then telly our friend what to do with it.

    You'll discover that your friend frequently has no idea what you mean, does the wrong thing, doesn't understand that your new commands are corrective commands, and accidentally e-mails your mother.

    The reason we invented buttons was to quantify our actions into ones that can be controlled, both positively and negatively. It's very easy to never click on the big red button with the mouse. It's not so easy to never accidentally say "launch missle", ever.

    Like I said, there's no voice recognition system that can get more than 95% accuracy, and I'm including your friend. When it comes to something technical, 95% isn't anywhere near enough. That's like dictating a 10-digit telephone number, and missing one digit every other time.

    So, would you accept your smartphone asking you to clarify your statements? That's just ridiculous.

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".