Let me start off by saying this: Your phone is not suddenly going to gain sentience and become Skynet. However, your phone is about to become a whole lot smarter, thanks to Apple and its new artificial intelligence Assistant.
The hype surrounding Tuesday’s Apple iPhone event is at an all-time high. But most of the hype is focused on the hardware that Apple will announce. What will the iPhone 5look like? Will there be an iPhone 4S? Will it have 4G capabilities or a bigger screen?
The real star of Tuesday’s show will not be the hardware, though. This event will focus on software, specifically one piece of software that Apple: the iPhone Assistant.
Assistant is the successor to Siri, the iPhone app that helped users with their daily tasks with natural language voice commands. Ask Siri to find a restaurant for you, and it could not only complete your requests, but it could also help you book a reservation. It could grab movie ratings, find you a taxi, perform Google searches and much more. Most of all, it learned from your actions and refined its recommendations accordingly.
The technology that powered Siri was born from SRI’s CALO project, the largest artificial intelligence project in U.S. history. It’s complex technology that linked machine learning to natural language. In other words, it’s technology that made artificial intelligence accessible and useful to the regular person.
Two months after its launch, Apple acquired Siri for more than $200 million.
What Assistant Will Do
On Tuesday, Siri will be reborn as Assistant. And while we have not had a chance to play with Assistant ourselves, we’ve heard amazing things from the people who have used it.
Say you’re in a new city and you’re really craving Chinese. In the past, you might have pulled up the Yelp app, performed a search on Yelp and combed through results. With Assistant, you can say to your iPhone, “Please find me a Chinese restaurant within a mile of my location.”
Instead of searching for the taxi company’s number, Assistant will find it for you. Instead of searching through your apps, Assistant will open up your app and tell the app what you want it to do (we eventually expect APIs that will allow users to directly access their apps via Assistant).
And yes, Assistant will be able to transcribe your texts and perform web searches, much like Google’s Android OS. Assistant will utilize Nuance’s advance voice-recognition technology to accomplish these tasks.
The key though is that Assistant will learn. It will figure out what results you don’t like, what restaurants you frequent, and what people you want to talk to the most. It will adapt to your needs and become more than just a module for voice commands.
What Artificial Intelligence Does to the iPhone
In a great interview on Monday, Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky wasn’t shy to share his thoughts on how Assistant will not only change personal computing but the entire world.
“Make no mistake: Apple’s ‘mainstreaming’ Artificial Intelligence in the form of a Virtual Personal Assistant is a groundbreaking event,” Winarsky told 9to5mac. “I’d go so far as to say it is a world-changing event.”
But why is Assistant a “world-changing” event? Winarsky explains further:
“This is real AI with real market use. If the rumors are true, Apple will enable millions upon millions of people to interact with machines with natural language,” he said. “The PAL (personal assistant software) will get things done, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re talking another technology revolution. A new computing paradigm shift.”
Apple plans to change the very way we interact with our phones yet again. Apple already sparked one revolution with touchscreens and another with the App Store. After Tuesday though, it will have introduced a whole new method of interacting with computers: through an artificial intelligence. That is something that will change our fundamental relationship with the devices that sit on our desks and travel with us in our pockets.
Starting Tuesday, we’ll be talking about a new computing revolution.
Lead image courtesy of DreamWorks