• Siri Makes Your iPhone Your Secretary

    Speech recognition on the iPhone is nothing new. I use reQall when my ADD-addled brain momentarily flashes on something so that I can remember it later. Jott works well for notes; I've even written blog entries with it, and though voice-activated GPS sounds cool, I'm not so interested that I want to pay for it. Now, though, a Silicon Valley startup has come up with the brilliant idea of melding voice recognition with artificial intelligence. The result is Siri, and it's only available on the iPhone... for now, anyway.

    Siri has the best user interface possible: your voice. Ask the app a question and it will search the web for your answer. Say "where can I see live music in Boston tonight" and it will go onto StubHub and tell you who's playing near you, with single-tap calling and Maps links. Ask about the movies and it gives you a theatres and showtimes from MovieTickets. tell it you want a cab and it sends your GPS coordinates to TaxiMagic. Over time, it will learn what you like, refining its searches to match your interests.

    According to the New York Times, Siri is a for-profit spinoff of SRI, the non-profit Stanford Research Institute. SRI got a big chunk of a five-year grant from DARPA - the US government advanced research agency - to develop a "personal cognitive assistant." SRI's project is called CALO, or Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes, and this product is one of the first results of that research.

    Speech recognition quality is very good: Siri licensed technology from Nuance, which provides the speech-to-text engine for both Dragon Dictation and Dragon Search. The app is supposed to run only on iPhone 3GSes, and that's understandable: it's pretty painfully slow on a jailbroken 3G. Siri says it will be coming out with an optimized version for older phones and iPod touches later this year. Android and BlackBerry versions are also in the works.

    The company gets a small fee from any purchases you make with Siri, so the app itself is free. At the present time, though, it only offers services in the United States.
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