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Siri's Revolution

November 3, 2011

When Apple launched the new iPhone 4S last month, there was a resounding ho-hum from many Apple fanboys and investors alike. It didn't seem like that big of a leap for a company that revised an entire industry -- two of them, in many regards. To detractors, the 4S wasn't revolutionary, game-changing and - most importantly - it wasn't an iPhone 5. There were, however, a few useful features and one that shined brightly once people experienced it for themselves. Siri is the revolutionary feature no one expected.

Siri is the iPhone's "humble, intelligent personal assistant." The addition, which integrates with existing features, is voice controlled. Now, Apple and many others have toyed with voice recognition for a long time. I remember using a VoicePrint password to log in to my translucent iMac running Mac OS 9 back in '99, bro. It sucked. I reverted to a typed password after three days screaming my password at a blue box. This time, Apple nailed it. Siri will listen and then interpret your command or question, responding appropriately. "What is the weather like today?" brings up today's forecast. "What is the hourly forecast?" and "Do I need a raincoat today?" bring back the same result. The amazing part is Siri's ability to respond to common requests as if it were a real person, understanding the context of the request. It uses things it already knows (i.e. your location, the time of day, your spouse's name) to respond with relevant information. Pairing this technology with a device that knows so much about your life is as powerful as it may be terrifying.

Siri can control many features on the iPhone, from playing a specific song to scheduling a meeting to locating a business or restaurant and providing directions. So, 12 years after my blue box screaming experience, we're faced with a voice recognition technology that actually works for everyday people, and consistently so. Voice recognition is now intuitively simple to use and the magicians of the creative industry have the tools to make a simple interface do amazing things, helping people do more with less. In that spirit, the self-described, "ad agency by day, inventions lab by night" redpepper created a prototype beer pouring machine, powered by a microcontroller circuit board (Arduino Uno with Wi-Fi shield). It makes calls to the Twitter API for any new commands and executes as instructed. This is a trivial experiment. I'll grant you that. But, it demonstrates how we can use existing tools to build voice controlled products or services.

Siri is the mouse to command line prompts, the Duesenberg Model J to the Ford Model T. It's both simplifying and refining how we use our digital devices.

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