Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Analysis and Research at Creative Strategies, Inc, a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm located in Silicon Valley.
When Apple showed the world Siri, I believe they showed us the next major man-to-machine user interface.
The idea of talking to computers is nothing new. It has, of course, been featured in sci-fi novels, movies and TV shows for years now. Even software itself has shown shades of voice input as the next user input for over 10 years. The challenge had always been bringing it to the mass market. This is what Apple plans to do with Siri on the iPhone 4S.
This technology has been in development for quite a while and is getting progressively better. Besides bringing it to the mass market, another challenge has been making it useful by going beyond simple dictation. One of the most impressive elements of Siri is not just the ability to do voice-to-text dictation, but its ability to turn natural-language directives into action.
What I mean by that is that I can use my voice to say, “Remind me to feed my goats when I get home.” Because Siri is trained to know where my house is and the iPhone 4S has GPS, the second I drive into my driveway, I get a reminder that tells me to feed the goats. I live on a farm and this is quite handy for me.
It’s a valuable proposition to be able to use voice commands to create calendar items, search the web, get abstract information like how many feet are in a mile, search local information, set alarms, check the weather, and much more. This can be done because Siri is tied to some very powerful databases and, through its AI and voice comprehension technology, can deliver some amazingly accurate information that has already proven helpful to me and many who have used this technology.
What is fascinating is that as I have been using Siri, the experience actually feels more like a conversation than me ordering my iPhone to do things. This is because when you use your voice to create an action, Siri asks you relevant questions in order to make sure it takes the correct action.
For example, the first time I told it to call my dad, Siri asked, “What is your father’s name?” I responded “Tim” and Siri said, “Do you want me to remember that Tim Bajarin is your father?” I answered yes and Siri acknowledged that it would remember that Tim Bajarin is my father.
Another example was when I was in an unfamiliar part of a city. I brought up the voice prompt and asked, “How do I get home?” Because I had set Siri up to know my home location, it then quickly gave me directions to my house using Google Maps.
Experiences like this cause you to realize that we are only just starting to scratch the surface of using our voices to interact with personal computers.
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