Siri: More Than a Personal Assistant?

For Apple fans, and tech-minded observers all over the world, yesterday’s announcements were met with mixed reactions. Some saw the natural progression and advancement of the ground-breaking iPhone 4 as inevitable, in hindsight, while others were dismayed at the conspicuous absence of the much-rumored (and hoped for) iPhone 5. Whatever your perspective, Apple made one announcement that really excited me (Hint: it’s not the release of Cards).

The unveiling of Siri, the personal assistant built into the iPhone 4S, is something that I believe will have significant ramifications for the future of computing. I can’t wait to actually try it in action! Today I’ll look at some of the amazing features of Siri, and include some thoughts on its significance.

Who Are You?

Siri on iPhone 4S lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, make phone calls and more – it’s a personal assistant that’s built into your phone! You can ask Siri to do things just by speaking naturally and using phrases that you would use in conversation. Apple describes how:

Siri understands what you say, knows what you mean and even talks back.

Siri actively questions you until it understands you and knows what you want. That’s pretty amazing! While nobody has really been able to try this yet, as Siri wasn’t included with developer copies of iOS 5, the promo video is very encouraging – it will be fascinating to begin to see the vast scope of Siri.

Meet Siri.

Understanding

One of the key things that Apple was trying to convey when unveiling Siri was the way in which it understands what you say. Rather than your iPhone simply responding to voice commands, Siri is a form of artificial intelligence that’s designed to be conversational and contextual; to use all the information available to it to gain understanding.

Talk to Siri as you would to a person. Say something like “Tell my wife I’m running late” or “Remind me to call the vet” or “Do I need an umbrella?” And Siri answers you. It does what you say and finds the information you need.

Abilities

Siri is designed to work with all of the iPhone’s native apps and can do a whole host of things, here are some examples:

  • Set a reminder for you.
  • Send a text for you, taking it via dictation.
  • Tell you what the weather is like, using intuitive conversation such as “will I need a coat?”
  • Set up a meeting, editing details of any meeting or calendar event.
  • Send emails, Siri can read them out and then take replies dictated to it.
  • Set alarms and timers for you, perhaps your iPhone will become the last person you speak to at night…

Dictation using Siri.

Integrated dictation is one of the things that Apple is pushing, but it remains to be seen just how useful this is – or whether people use it at all? It is great that it’s available wherever the keyboard appears though, allowing you to dictate things to Facebook and other third-party apps.

The Future

Some people may roll their eyes at the features of Siri that Apple announced yesterday, what’s new or interesting about that? It’s a small improvement on the current voice commands feature that’s been around for ages. Others will be impressed by the idea, but fail to see any real use in their own lives.

There is a great deal of further scope for Siri.

While I have no first-hand experience with Siri myself, so I can’t vouch for how well it works in everyday life, if it works as beautifully as Apple suggests it does, I can see some great potential. This may be the first iteration of a feature that’s going to transform the way we interact with computers.

There is compelling theory to suggest that the future of our everyday interactions with computers will be via a conversational interface; communicating our needs to a computer that’s intelligent enough to not only understand our words, but grasp what we mean. Siri could be the first step in that very direction, the enthusiasm of Apple for their new feature certainly implies that they believe this to be the case.

I, for one, am very excited about the possibilities that Siri is opening up. Over the next few years we’ll see this feature become more and more intelligent, and integrated with every possible app and service. It will be on our Macs and iPads, based in the cloud it will have access to a vast expanse of knowledge and information, it will be able to do more than we can now imagine, and it will know us.

This is just the beginning.

Your Thoughts

We always love to hear what you have to say – get involved and leave a comment below! Were you excited or disappointed by the announcements yesterday? What part most fascinated you?

What do you think of Siri, your personal assistant?