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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My vision of a Siri future

Apple has this new voice recognition thing called Siri. It seems to have a whole bunch of tricks in terms of parsing your input and doing things for you. There are also a few places where it seems to know what you want but is consciously unable to do it. It even apologizes.

The pattern I keep seeing with all of the commands is that they twiddle some state on the phone (play this, call so and so), do something with your shared storage (calendars and the like), or look things up for you.

I'm waiting to see what happens when Apple decides to open it up to local context. Imagine what would happen if devices in your house would be detected via zeroconf (Bonjour, whatever) and then you could control them.

At this point, you're thinking of the television set, because there's this rumor of a Siri-enabled Apple television coming out some day. That's nice. Everyone else is too. I'm not here to talk about such obvious things. I want to talk about the other stuff.

Remember X-10 modules? They sat between a lamp and the wall socket, listened for low bit rate commands on the actual power line (!) and then obeyed your wishes. The technology is actually over 30 years old. You might have known it as Radio Shack's "Plug 'n' Power" or any number of other rebranded names, but it's all the same technology.

What happens when someone decides to make a "lamp module" which plugs in between your wall socket and a lamp which then speaks Wifi? What if that lamp module joins your home wireless network and starts announcing its presence via those same mechanisms?

Now put it all together. What if Siri could see them and use them?

"Siri, lights off."

It looks, and sure enough, there are light modules it can talk to. It sends the commands.

"Okay, I turned off the lights."

That there is kind of primitive. Let's make it a little more interesting. Knowing Apple, they'd also make it location-aware.

"Siri, lights off."

You're not at home. You're out in the world somewhere, and you're not even on a wireless network.

"I can't control any lights nearby. Would you like me to turn off the lights at home?"

Basically, it should remember that it was used to control lights there before, and then pair that with the geofencing they already have to turn it back into a human-friendly location name: "home". If you've done it in more than one place (work? multiple houses?) then it might do the usual disambiguation stuff.

Next time, you might just say "Siri, turn off the lights at home" to avoid the extra confirmation steps.

Apple could have something big here. They just have to take this seriously and provide intelligent ways to expand the system.

If this sort of thing is handled correctly, we'll get to the whole Star Trek "computer..." type thing within the decade. Count on it.