The 'largest AI program in history' led to Apple's Siri

The wild promises of artificial intelligence are already in our pockets, thanks to Apple's Siri virtual assistant. But the backstory is far more interesting.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

We've written in-depth before about the speech recognition technology found on modern smartphones, and we've sent film crews to SRI International, the non-profit U.S.-based institute that plays a key role in helping the military -- in this case, the U.S. Department of Defense's experimental DARPA division -- solve challenges through technology.

But how all that combined to create Apple's Siri virtual assistant, specifically? We've never covered that.

The Huffington Post's Bianca Bosker did. In a lengthy feature published yesterday, Bosker dives into the origins of Siri, which began as a U.S. government experiment and is now a high-profile feature of one of the most popular electronics on the planet.

Five fascinating excerpts:

  • "The Defense Department's financial backing, $150 million in all, united hundreds of top-tier artificial intelligence experts for an ambitious and uncertain endeavor that most corporate R&D labs could only dream of tackling: teaching computers to learn in the wild."
  • "The [Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, or CALO] project reunited, for the first time in decades, independent disciplines of artificial intelligence that had been deemed too complex to cooperate. It also demonstrated that a machine could learn in real time through its lived experience, as a human being does."
  • "As conceived by its creators, Siri was supposed to be a 'do engine,' something that would allow people to hold conversations with the Internet... the startup's goal was not to build a better search engine, but to pioneer an entirely new paradigm for accessing the Internet."
  • "Faster wireless speeds, better speech recognition, the rise of cloud computing, the debut of [the smartphone] and a flood of new web services made virtual helpers seem attainable at last."
  • "The Siri that Apple introduced in October 2011... had expanded its linguistic range from one to multiple languages. It was scaled to serve millions of people and programmed to operate internationally. It had acquired a voice with which to speak its answers, where before it had offered only written responses."

And wouldn't you know it, Siri nearly ended up as a feature for rival Google's Android operating system. Give Bosker's piece a read -- it's worth your while.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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