Siri, Advice from Virtual Personal Assistants

Remember the computer "HAL 9000" in the movie "2001 Space Odyssey," that acted like a personal navigator? Remember when you had personal assistants to help execute some of your everyday menial tasks? Well, a new shift in searching the Internet is going to make that technology, a reality. Virtual Personal Assistants are coming to a mobile device or computer near you this summer. Siri brings a very advanced collection of technologies (speech recognition, natural language processing, semantic data processing, and geo-location) to create a digital assistant that will help you perform tasks through a conversational, question-and-answer interface.

Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) represent the next generation interaction paradigm for the Internet. In today's online space, we follow links on portals, feeds, and search results. With a VPA, we will interact by having a virtual conversation. We will ask the VPA what we want to do, and it will respond with a solution to our query. If the assistant does not understand your question completely, it will dig deeper for clarification. If it cannot surface a specific answer from available sources, it will offer alternatives. Like a real assistant, a VPA will become customized to the individual, and will use one's preferences and history of interaction to help solve specific tasks. In other words, it will get better with time and experience.

Like a cross between semantic search and artificial intelligence. Dag Kittlaus, CEO of Siri, discusses the capabilities of Siri, here...

So how does all this affect us mere mortals who haven't interacted with artificial intelligence in the past?  Well think about the possibilities. While you are out and about, you can use Siri to discover a great place to eat, get tickets to a show, plan your weekend, or get help finding your way around town.

However, according to initial reports from TechCrunch, "For now, Siri’s knowledge is extremely limited and narrow to just the kinds of tasks it helps complete. It wasn’t designed to be a knowledge assistant. It won’t help you organize information and it won’t help you with your homework." In its initial state, Siri will not have much of personality or capabilities for far-reaching decisions based on semantic knowledge retrieval. It will be limited to simple tasks or orchestrating menial daily activities, across multiple different services.

Siri is the first mainstream consumer application of a Virtual Personal Assistant. It is focusing on the Mobile Internet, where an intelligent interface can help people get things done that would be cumbersome or impractical using the link-following paradigm. Years in the making, Siri is the largest Artificial Intelligence project in U.S. history. Made possible by a $150 million DARPA investment, the project included 25 research organizations and institutions and spanned 5 years.

The company believe that in five years most people who use the Internet will have a Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA) to take care of the details of using online services.  We will look back at the birth of VPAs in 2009 and wonder how we ever got by without one.  The days of wading through links and pages from your mobile interface will seem quaint, because the natural way to interact with the rich Dag Kittlaus, CEODag Kittlaus, CEOworld of information is to have a conversation. Kittlaus says: "The future of search isn't search. It is a conversation with someone you trust." The question is can Siri be trusted, or will it be manipulated by advertisers and special interests that may sway its content to do their bidding?

In the case of dependability if Siri's response to one of your questions sends you on a wild-goose chase, do you have the option of "firing" it like you would have with your personal assistant? Or if you ask for mental health guidance, can you depend on Siri's diagnosis that you are depressed? (reminiscent of HAL's advice in "2001 Space Odyssey": "Dave, I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.")

In any event, Siri is the VPA front-runner and as a leader in this technology it's just getting started. It will have a lot to learn, and you can be assured, we will all be there purchasing each new permutation of this new technology as new devices fly off of the assembly line. Stay tuned - the era of the virtual personal assistant has just begun! Sign up to be one of the first folks to try Siri! During this summer before their public launch, the company will be inviting people to test drive the product on their iPhones, Blackberrys and Android Devices.

My first question to my Siri will be if it knows the lyrics to the song "Daisy"!

HAL 9000HAL 9000



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