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Son of Siri Promises Real AI in Your Pocket — and Everywhere Else …

When Apple announced the iPhone 4S on October 4, 2011, the headlines were not about its speedy A5 chip or improved camera. Instead they focused on an unusual new feature: an intelligent assistant, dubbed Siri. At first Siri, endowed with a female voice, seemed almost human in the way she understood what you said to her and responded, an advance in artificial intelligence that seemed to place us on a fast track to the Singularity. She was brilliant at fulfilling certain requests, like “Can you set the alarm for 6:30?” or “Call Diane’s mobile phone.” And she had a personality: If you asked her if there was a God, she would demur with deft wisdom. “My policy is the separation of spirit and silicon,” she’d say.

He envisions someone unsteadily holding a phone to his mouth outside a dive bar at 2 am and saying, “I’m drunk.” Without any elaboration, Viv would contact the user’s preferred car service, dispatch it to the address where he’s half passed out, and direct the driver to take him home. No further consciousness required.

Over the next few months, however, Siri’s limitations became apparent. Ask her to book a plane trip and she would point to travel websites—but she wouldn’t give flight options, let alone secure you a seat. Ask her to buy a copy of Lee Child’s new book and she would draw a blank, despite the fact that Apple sells it. Though Apple has since extended Siri’s powers—to make an OpenTable restaurant reservation, for example—she still can’t do something as simple as booking a table on the next available night in your schedule. She knows how to check your calendar and she knows how to use Open­Table. But putting those things together is, at the moment, beyond her.

Now a small team of engineers at a stealth startup called Viv Labs claims to be on the verge of realizing an advanced form of AI that removes those limitations. Whereas Siri can only perform tasks that Apple engineers explicitly implement, this new program, they say, will be able to teach itself, giving it almost limitless capabilities. In time, they assert, their creation will be able to use your personal preferences and a near-infinite web of connections to answer almost any query and perform almost any function.

“Siri is chapter one of a much longer, bigger story,” says Dag Kittlaus, one of Viv’s cofounders. He should know. Before working on Viv, he helped create Siri. So did his fellow cofounders, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham.

“Intelligence becomes a utility,” Kittlaus says. “Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk to everything, and it knew you, and it knew everything about you, and it could do everything?”

For the past two years, the team has been working on Viv Labs’ product—also named Viv, after the Latin root meaning live. Their project has been draped in secrecy, but the few outsiders who have gotten a look speak about it in rapturous terms. “The vision is very significant,” says Oren Etzioni, a renowned AI expert who heads the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. “If this team is successful, we are looking at the future of intelligent agents and a multibillion-dollar industry.”

Read the rest at WIRED.

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4 Comments on “Son of Siri Promises Real AI in Your Pocket — and Everywhere Else …”

  1. […] By primatologist When Apple announced the iPhone 4S on October 4, 2011, the headlines were not about its speedy A5 chip or improved camera. Instead they focused on an unusual new feature: an intelligent assistant, dubbed Siri. At first Siri, endowed with a female voice, seemed almost human in the way she understood what you said to […] Like this? Read more and get your own subscription at […]

  2. The Butcher says:

    Re: Siri – I had one of my first genuinely satisfying experiences with voice-assisted navigation only a few days ago. After a long day at a social event in an obscure, semi-rural location–which I’d navigated to effortlessly, via the combination of Siri and maps, working together seamlessly (I’m notoriously bad at directions and navigating) it was the beginning of the second car trip where I felt I was living in the future.

    Exhausted, I climbed into my car, and simply said “take me home”. And barely remember the rest of the drive.

    Though it’s obviously among the least technically-demanding things a user can ask Siri to do, it represented a hint of the promise this technology has offer. My request wasn’t technical, navigational, or even rational. It was emotional. It was a human request, “get me out of here”.

    All that was required from the app is to know A. who I am, and B. where I live. C. How to navigate there, and D. How to vocalize the appropriate direction prompts.

    The satisfaction came from how well it worked, gracefully, almost invisibly (not true, only a year or two ago) I was able to let my guard down and put my faith in it. I didn’t harbor even a shadow of a doubt that it would work, from beginning to end, with no additional intervention on my part.

    Compared to navigating with a map, or an early-edition GPS voice navigator, it was like a magic carpet ride. The only thing missing was “Your core temperature appears to be slightly elevated, there’s a Dairy Queen five blocks from here, why don’t we stop by for a moment, so you can get a refreshing beverage?”

    Since I didn’t suffer through Siri’s launch, and early few years of unreliable (or comically bad) early versions, I was able to enjoy the benefits, with a minimum of inconvenience or disappointment. I am able to use it when I need it, and otherwise don’t have to think about it.

    One of the things Apple is both admired and hated for is their ability to get a large loyal customer base to not only volunteer to be glorified beta testers, but to get them to line up to pay premium prices for their unfinished products.

    Is that a bad thing? If it weren’t for Apple’s outstanding customer satisfaction record (they’re nearly Japanese in their responsiveness and skill at pampering and serving customer needs) this would be a bad thing. Because nobody survives for long being in the promise business. Being in the satisfaction business, on the other hand, that’s a durable asset.

    Recent developments suggests that this fragile balance between premium pricing, prototype testing at the customer’s expense, and gymnastic customer service hasn’t been a barrier to ongoing innovation, while stimulating (and being forced to contend with) plenty of eager and disruptive competition.

    Do I want the Son of Siri? Absolutely, yes!

    As long as I don’t have to line up to test it.

    Can I have one when it’s ready? Please?

  3. […] our Hong Kong Bureau Chief posted a tantalizing peek into the future of AI – “Real AI in Your Pocket” — and in the comments section, I posted an […]

  4. […] Son of Siri Promises Real AI in Your Pocket – and Everywhere Else … (punditfromanotherplanet.com) […]


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