The Software Society

How digital technology is changing our culture and economy

Apple Siri

Apple’s smartphones and Siri are inextricably coupled. Siri often generates jokes when she makes recognition errors, but surveys show that a majority of users are “very satisfied” with Siri.

Apple was a pioneer in this field, and has the ability to deliver on an idea popular in science fiction, with computers that characters talk to a staple of the genre. When Apple’s Siri personal assistant was introduced, the voice-interactive user interface was called a “beta” version to reduce expectations. The beta designation has been dropped.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of Siri’s success is that it is being emulated. Google’s “voice search” (saying what you want into a search box in natural language instead of typing it) is in effect a personal assistant awakened by saying “OK, Google” or “OK, Google Now” on recent smartphones from Google and Google’s Motorola subsidiary.

It’s not a gimmick. The personal assistant model has the potential to be a dominant user interface that unifies devices and applications by letting us simply say or type what we want in “natural language” without discovering the idiosyncrasies of a particular device or application.

And continuing improvement is guaranteed, since it will become increasingly a vehicle for advertising revenues, with the answer you get to an inquiry influenced by advertising payments (just as a web search shows paid results at the top of the page). Google CEO Eric Schmidt even testified to Congress that Siri was a threat to Google’s ad revenues.

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