Apple really did their best to make Siri feel as much like a character from a science fiction novel as possible. The trailer revealing the iPhone 4S's voice-controlled assistant showed off not only the basic voice commands, but also just-for-fun questions like "will you marry me?"
The reality behind Siri, however, is that its functions are limited. This must have gotten on its creators' nerves, because they recently revealed their new stealth startup that claims to be developing a cure to Siri's pre-programmed limitations.
Viv Labs was cofounded by the developers behind Siri. Their latest project hopes to teach computers to "think." You can tell Siri to set you an alarm, but you can't ask it to wake you up exactly when the sun comes up.
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Essentially, the ideal AI assistant would be able to parse not only that you want to be woken up, but also be able to seek out local weather information for the exact minute when the sun rises. It's information that you could find for yourself, and Viv Labs wants to teach computers where to look.
A member of their team recently spoke with Wired magazine about the technology's potential.
“Give me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in.” Viv will parse the sentence and then it will perform its best trick: automatically generating a quick, efficient program to link third-party sources of information together—say, Kayak, SeatGuru, and the NBA media guide—so it can identify available flights with lots of legroom. And it can do all of this in a fraction of a second.
AI assistants, up to this point, have mostly worked by responding to pre-programmed phrases. When you ask Siri about Shaq-sized seats, chances are good that it will run a Google search for you instead of returning the information that you need.