Apple’s Siri is the Future…and Google Knows It

But finding 147,000 web pages in less than a second isn’t as useful as it used to be.

Original post from November 20, 2012.

The fox stumbled upon this beauty from Kontra, a self described veteran design and management surgeon perennially in search of complex problems to operate on. In it, he drills down into the possible future of Siri, Apple’s instantly eager virtual assistant, but first has to break down the value of such an assistant versus the Google powered Internet that we’ve all grown to admire and crave.

The Google comparison, while expected and fun, is misplaced. It’d be very hard for Siri (or Bing or Facebook, for that matter) to beat Google at conventional Command Line Interface search given its intense and admirable algorithmic tuning and enormous infrastructure buildup for a decade. Fortunately for competitors, though, Google Search has an Achilles heel: you have to tell Google your intent and essentially instruct the CLI to construct and carry out the search. If you wanted to find a vegetarian restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts within a price range of $25-$85 and you were a Google Search ninja, you could manually enter a very specific keyword sequence: “restaurant vegetarian quincy ma $25…$85″ and still get “about 147,000 results (0.44 seconds)” to parse from.

Linear Search

Linear Search

This is a directed navigation system around The Universal Set — the entirety of the Internet. The user has to essentially tell Google his intent one. word. at. a. time and the search engine progressively filters the universal set with each keyword from billions of “pages” to a much smaller set of documents that are left for the user to select the final answer from.

Let’s be clear. Google has invested billions of dollars and more brain power than the whole of some countries into solving Internet search. And it’s worked brilliantly for all of us for more than a decade. (It’s amazing how quickly we’ve taken for granted that “.44 seconds” part of the Google search interaction.) But finding 147,000 web pages in less than a second isn’t as useful as it used to be. Enter Siri.

Siri’s opportunity here to win the hearts and minds of users is to change the rules of the game from relatively rigid, linear and largely decontextualized CLI search towards a much more humane approach where the user declares his intent but doesn’t have to tell Siri how to do it every step of the way. The user starts a spoken conversation with Siri, and Siri puts an impressive array of services together in the background: · precise location, time and task awareness derived from the (mobile) device, · speech-to-text, text-to-speech, text-to-intent and dialog flow processing, · semantic data, services APIs, task and domain models, and · personal and social network data integration. Let’s look at the contrast more closely. Suppose you tell Siri: “Remind me when I get to the office to make reservations at a restaurant for mom’s birthday and email me the best way to get to her house.” Siri already knows enough to integrate Contacts, Calendar, GPS, geo-fencing, Maps, traffic, Mail, Yelp and Open Table apps and services to complete the overall task. A CLI search engine like Google’s could complete only some of these and only with a lot of keyword and coordination help from the user.

And that’s just the beginning. Suppose Siri gets even deeper integration with 3rd party apps?

Further, being an integral part of iOS and having programmatic access to third party applications on demand, Siri is fully capable of executing a fictional request like: Transfer money to purchase two tickets, move receipt to Passbook, alert in own calendar, email wife, and update shared calendar, then text baby sitter to book her, and remind me later. by translating it into a transactional chain, with bundled and 3rd party apps and services acting upon verbs and nouns:

App Chain

App Chain

By parsing a “natural language” request lexically into structural subject-predicate-object parts semantically, Siri can not only find documents and facts (like Google) but also execute stated or implied actions with granted authority. The ability to form deep semantic lookups, integrate information from multiple sources, devices and 3rd party apps, perform rules arbitration and execute transactions on behalf of the user elevates Siri from a schoolmarmish librarian (à la Google Search) into an indispensable butler, with privileges.

Now this hypothetical future butler doesn’t only belong to Apple’s Siri. Google sees the writing on the wall and has planted their flag with Google Now (not to be confused with Google Voice Search, though this fox has seen them easily confuse more than a few tech savvy canines) which has started building semantic libraries based on user’s voice searches and integrating them with Google services on their mobile devices.

At this point it’s not a matter of if, but when the future of the Internet will arrive. And, of course, who do we trust most to deliver it.

Fox Tip: Our kids and grandkids will laugh at the Google Search we’ve been using when they see it in the digital museums of the future. Start rehearsing your ‘back in my day’ stories now.

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