A new iPhone app is trying to take the fiction out of Science Fiction. Movies have long portrayed people in the future speaking commands to computers. Siri, based on $200M of research and development, is trying to make it so.
The founders call their application the ultimate mashup, because it currently uses 35-40 APIs to provide the best reply it can. Queries are spoken in simple English, such as "book me a taxi" and "what's the weather forecast in Boulder this weekend?" Even the speech-to-text translation is an API (in this case, Nuance).
Siri's secret sauce is in its artificial intelligence that determines which APIs it needs to invoke. That's where the R&D budget went, when it was still an SRI International project. Of course, Siri still has some problems interpretting what humans consider basic questions. What impressed me is how many of its deficiencies Siri is itself aware of. In the demo video posted below, I show one of them.
The company plans to add more APIs every month. The initial launch is just a platform upon which to build. CEO Dag Kittlaus calls Siri a "click reduction machine," but goes further in his post The Birth of the Virtual Assistant:
This will be a market in which every player along the line wins. Users will be able to click less, enjoy simpler interactions and receive much-needed help getting things done and managing their day. Participating service providers get simpler discovery, more transactions, and higher consumption rates. This then drives more data dollars to networks, fueling infrastructure expansion.
The real money, it seems, is in transactional APIs, ones where users are making a purchase. Some examples already included in Siri are booking taxis and reserving a table at a restaurant. The company plans to add flight booking, among other ways to promote what Kittlaus calls "frictionless e-commerce."
In some cases, the APIs just aren't there yet. At the top of the Siri team's wishlist? Amazon. The huge web store has been at the forefront of web services, but has held tight control over the purchase interraction.
If you have an iPhone 3GS, check out Siri in the app store and let us know what you think of the future.