Your favorite disembodied virtual personal assistant, Siri, may be heading to your next MacBook Pro — or camera! — according to a recently filed Apple patent. The voice recognition software first introduced with much fanfare on the iPhone 4S, has since been the subject of increasing speculation, including an oft-cited rumor that the tech could replace or supplement the traditional remote control in an upcoming Apple television. What this new patent seems to indicate, however, is a promising future for Siri as part of a great ecosystem of devices, including cameras, notebooks, desktops, and yes, even televisions — all through the iPhone.
An internet of things
Because the technology behind Siri — algorithms that analyze natural phrases and speech patterns and convert that data into responses that make sense — requires tremendous amounts of processing power, Apple currently uses vast servers to do Siri’s voice recognition heavy lifting. You speak into your iPhone, and your voice is beamed to Apple’s servers, which analyze your speech and send instructions back to your iPhone — the very reason Siri never has an answer for you when you’re out of network range. Apple’s new patent draws on that relationship, allowing devices on the same wireless network to share those answers with each other. For instance: Walk into your house and tell your iPhone to turn on the TV and switch to channel 30. Better yet, you remember you forgot to record your favorite show as you are getting into bed — just pickup your iPhone and tell Siri to make it so! Pair your iPhone with your MacBook Pro and start dictating a document, or “open and display the contents of files stored on a computer,” as the filing describes. The patent even displays a camera in its diagram — meaning setting a timer for a self-portrait may soon be a thing of the past.
Although not explicitly mentioned in the patent, it isn’t hard to imagine Siri as the center of an “internet of things,” a term that has come to mean a network of interconnected low-tech devices or appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, working together in concert. Imagine waking up in the morning and telling your iPhone to put on a cup of coffee. The future may not be far off.
Of course, there are always the practical implications: Voice control is an attractive idea in theory, until you’re seated next to someone on a bus repeatedly screaming into their iPhone — one realizes fairly quickly how far the technology still has to go, as well as the inherent limitations. Which is why Siri at the center of a personal electronics universe may make great sense — in the comfort of your home, who cares?
We should also remember that Siri is beta software, no matter how it’s currently marketed — meaning that Apple is still very much working the kinks out, a fact that anyone who has used the tech before is surely aware of. This might also help explain the conspicuous lack of true Siri integration in the new iPad. The good news is that because Siri is just software, it can be constantly improved on existing devices. Perhaps a future software update will introduce the sort of tech this patent describes; or maybe this one will be relegated to the patent archives, never to see the light of day. Is voice control the future, and could you get used to talking to your computer?