You: "Hey Siri. Is Star Wars: The Last Jedi playing tonight in Mountain View, CA?"
Siri: "Yes. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is playing tonight at Century Cinema 16 in Mountain View at 8pm."
You: "Ok Siri, buy me 2 tickets please."
Siri. She’s that helpful, sassy and intriguing virtual assistant that has redefined the mundane tasks of our daily lives, all through the power of AI. She can help us make a call or send an email; she can also schedule reminders, take photos, call an Uber or help translate a phrase. She can guess at who let the dogs out or tell us the meaning of life. Sure, she doesn’t always get it right. For a while there, she thought that the national anthem of Bulgaria was Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ and that John Travolta was dead. But all in all, Siri is on the forefront of innovation, right?
Perhaps not. With many claiming that Siri has seriously failed to live up to her potential and that her innovation has all but been stifled, buying movie tickets could be just one of many things that Siri can’t do. And with that being the case, what will become of Siri’s future?
Siri: Conceived by The US Department of Defence
Although Siri’s future may look uncertain today, that certainly wasn’t the case when the US Department of Defence’s non-profit research institute, SRI International, sought to conceive her in 2003.
Backed by USD $150 million and a team of 500 of the world’s best artificial intelligence experts, the Department initially sought out to create software that might help military commanders make decisions. Yet Siri (who at the time was called CALO, an acronym for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) thankfully became so much more than that.
Yet for the future Siri to do anything whatsoever, the engineers at SRI needed her to boldly go where no other software had before: she needed to be able to learn. And so with Siri, machine learning was taken to a new level. The team at SRI managed to crack the code: previously, a machine-learning algorithm had needed to be applied to a fixed set of data, yet Siri could train herself to perform tasks on an almost unlimited amount of information.
In the period from 2003-2007, engineers at SRI made great progress with Siri. One young engineer, Adam Cheyer, showed real promise though – instead of wanting to use Siri to replace human decisions, like his colleagues, he wanted to use Siri to help people complete daily tasks. This use for Siri wasn’t so popular at SRI – but formed a large part of her ethos when a company of the same name was soon founded.
2007: Internet speed and the launch of the iPhone
By autumn 2007, SRI has begun showing their technology to many companies around the world. One executive that was particularly impressed was Motorola’s Dag Kittlaus, who, after he failed to convince Motorola to use it, quit the company and together with Cheyer and a couple of other SRI executives, founded Siri.
Siri officially came to life amongst a background of other technological innovations that would define her. Not only did 2007 bring significantly faster internet speeds, but it also brought the Apple iPhone – a tool that Siri’s founders could see would play a significant part in all of our respective futures. Based on this, the founders began developing Siri into an iPhone app.
Having secured $8.5 million in funding from investors in early 2008, Siri’s functionality progressed in leaps and bounds. Soon she had started to master speech recognition, for example, which would help her understand the many millions of ways that people would ask for things.
And when Siri debuted at a 2010 tech conference, her reach was truly impressive. She was able to connect with 42 different web services, including Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes, to return users with the best answers, organised from diverse sources. One of Siri’s co-founders, Tom Gruber, demonstrated her power when he asked Siri ‘I’d like a romantic place for Italian food near my office’ and she provided an answer that seamlessly combined information from Citysearch, Yelp, Yahoo!, Allmenus.com, Google Maps and Open Table.
Siri’s founders envisioned her as a do engine – an assistant that could easily make whatever you asked for yours. Yet soon, the tables had turned and Siri’s priorities changed.
A call from Steve Jobs
Siri was released as an independent iPhone App in February of 2010. 3 weeks after she launched, Siri’s founders received a mysterious call.
It was Steve Jobs, and he wanted to meet.
After spending a few hours with Jobs in Palo Alto, the deal was all but sealed – Apple wanted to acquire Siri. And despite the fact that Verizon (Android) also showed interest, Apple eventually succeeded, acquiring Siri less than two months later.
It was at Apple, however, that Siri’s bright future started to fade.
A less connected Siri
Once acquired, Apple got to work tinkering with Siri. And although some features were added, many were also removed – Siri was soon disconnected from most of the outside services that helped her become so powerful, for example, her restaurant-booking function.
Siri’s founders, initially ecstatic about the possibilities Apple could bring, also saw their aspirations unravel. As an agile startup, they’d been able to broker many valuable partnerships that helped Siri succeed. But now, as a technology monolith, partnerships were much harder to come by, much to Siri’s detriment.
In wanting to bring Siri to the masses, Apple also inadvertently put a halt on other possible innovations. One of Apple’s first goals for Siri was to localise her – and in order to do this, she had to speak dozens of different languages. Teaching her to do so was a time-intensive challenge, and one that took many years.
Due to being embedded in the iPhone, Siri was largely used, although not largely liked. Many familiar with the earlier version of Siri said that Apple’s marketing of her – ‘Your wish is my command’ – fell extremely short of expectations, considering especially that Apple had taken away some of her features and, after all, she only excelled in a very small sub-set of tasks.
Where could Siri be?
Fast forward to 2017, and many in tech circles, including one of the original investors in the technology, Gary Morgenthaler, are labelling her progress ‘disappointing to say the least.’
So where could Siri be if her development hadn’t been all but sidelined?
Siri could have (and for all intents and purposes, still might have) a bright future indeed, if Apple reconsiders integrating with a number of emerging technologies.
One such technology that could make a significant difference to Siri is Fillr.
Fillr, an autofill-as-a-service technology that uses Advanced Textual Heuristics, could enable her to push through a barrier yet unsurpassed – the ability to transact.
If integrated with Fillr, Siri could seamlessly fulfil a request to purchase or complete an online form for just about anything. And not only could she make the purchase, but she could do so safely: Fillr’s technology encrypts payment data using military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, so no one (including Siri!) could ever access your payment data.
With the aid of emerging technology such as autofill, it seems that Siri’s future is far from lost. In fact, next time you ask her about that movie ticket, the conversation might go something more like this:
You: "Ok Siri, buy me 2 tickets please."
Siri: "Sure. I’ll buy 2 tickets using Fillr."
…Or you know, something like that.
Fillr has built the world’s most intelligent and accurate autofill that will seamlessly integrate into your app. Contact us today to find out how our technology can help your customers to transact faster and more effectively, boosting your conversions and revenue.