Siri's Capabilities Go Way Beyond the Phone

What's next for Siri? Everything

The Power of Speech

Alison Seiffer

When Siri debuted last October, it became the most intuitive voice-recognition software available. But Siri is more than just a speech-control app; it is a complete, artificially intelligent user interface. What Apple calls its "personal assistant" requires no programming and continually improves with use, as remote servers back up its ever-expanding vocabulary and understanding of natural conversation. Siri has changed how iPhone 4S users (for now the only ones with the app) interact with apps—finding the nearest pizza joint or booking a calendar appointment is as simple as speaking. Next Siri may change how people interact with their homes.

Over the past couple of years, manufacturers have released a wave of Wi-Fi-connected home gadgets that can be controlled remotely with smartphone apps. Somfy smart window coverings allow users to raise and lower blinds, a Craftsman garage-door opener can be controlled from afar, and Nest's thermostat is adjustable from anywhere. Mean- while, electronics manufacturers have started trotting out smartphone apps that replace remotes for TVs and stereos.

Siri is more than just a speech-control app; it is a complete, artificially intelligent user interface.Siri could easily become a control portal for all those devices. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a proponent of extending voice control beyond smart- phones. In a recent biography of him by Walter Isaacson, Jobs hinted that the forthcoming Apple TV (rumored to be in development for release late this year) would be controlled by speech.

Although Apple hasn't committed to integrating Siri with other devices, hackers are already finding handy uses for the app. Peter Lamonica, a computer programmer in St. Louis, re-coded Siri with the keywords necessary to control his Wi- Fi thermostat. Initially he could change only his home's default temperature or check the current one. Now he's working to hone the program so that it could reset the temperature to his preferred comfort level simply by saying, "Siri, I'm cold." Other hackers have programmed Siri to remotely start an Acura and cue up episodes of Seinfeld on a media-center PC.

The next task will be to program Siri to control many devices at once. Instead of choosing which iPhone app to consult for information, it will need to recognize and execute commands for different devices in the wireless home network. Once that happens, Siri will be the world's first completely intuitive universal remote, intelligent enough to cater to a home- owner's needs and schedule. When leaving work, a user could pop open the app and say "Siri, I'm on my way home. I'll be there around 8." When he arrived, the lights would be on, the thermostat at a comfortable 72 degrees, and the stereo playing dinner music. He'd still have to fetch his own slippers, though.