On Siri and Disruptive Techonologies

By now you either have an iPhone 4s in your possession or you are fed up with all the press about it. I'm in the former camp, so this post is going to add more fuel to the fire for the latter. 

The new Siri voice recognition technology on the iPhone 4s is truly remarkable, as if Steve Jobs had "one last thing" on his deathbed. It's a nice thought, but apparently Jobs really had been working on the iPhone 5. Moreover, Siri (about which you can read more at Wikipedia) was acquired by Apple in 2010 and is not so much an internal development as a spin-off of SRI International, a fascinating research institute that has some deeply weird undertakings in its history (remote viewing, psychokinesis, telepathy and so on). 

But there's little question in my mind that Siri is a disruptive technology. Of course, its a phenomenally effective voice-controlled digital assitant on the iPhone. Still in beta, it isn't perfect, but neither is the iPhone's touchscreen keyboard. In my practical experience, it's about as efficient to use. If I could figure out how to edit sentences with it, I could imagine using it to post blog entries. Still, to have it give me the correct answer to my query as to what the time in Vilnius, Lithuania is is truly mindblowing. 

Voice recognition was a "next big thing"  for so long and had failed to deliver for just about as long. Maybe even a decade ago, we stopped believing it would ever come. But now, all at once, it's here. Siri is a disruptive technology. 

As widely noted, Siri has been programmed with a sense of humor (see shitsirisays.tumblr.com) generally described as "sassy." It's a brute force approach, akin to a 21st century Eliza but it helps make the software more complete, delivering the illusion that the device is truly intelligent. 

The big question is how much Apple exploits it. The iOS is fine, but my initial tests suggest that this should be everywhere from my desktop computer to my automobile (which has barely functional voice recognition) to railroad ticket kiosks to elevators (although how you would handle it if a bunch of people spoke at once is not clear) to the walls of my house (house, turn up the temperature, its cold). Given Apple's track record, however, I find it hard to believe they will license the technology to all comers. Still, even if they don't once something is out in the open, somebody else will figure out a way to make it so it's a matter of time before we are all talking to the world around us like deranged animists.

I've called this a disruptive technology and it is. The ecosystem of mobile networked objects is going to change radically. But its still unclear to me how this is going to impact the landscape of human interactions in the landscape. Certainly, if the technology spreads, it will crank us further into a world of ubiquitous computing. But time is going to tell on much of this. Stay tuned.

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