The Surprising Origins of Apple’s Siri Voice Assistant Revealed

The Huffington Post has a seemingly endless post which documents the origins of Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, before it was acquired by Apple back in 2010.

Siri’s former co-founder and chief executive Dag Kittlaus, once again shares details on how he spent time at Steve Jobs’ home to talk about the future of voice engines and subsequently Apple wanting to acquire the company:

Siri’s co-founders spent three hours with Jobs at his Palo Alto home discussing the future of do engines and how people could converse with machines (Jobs loved Siri’s snark). Apple quickly followed up with an interest in acquiring the young company.

“The way that Steve described it, speech recognition — and how to use it to create a speech interface for something like the iPhone — was an area of interest to him and Scott Forstall [then head of Apple’s mobile software] for some time,” recalls Kittlaus. “The story that I’m told is that he thought we’d cracked that paradigm with our simple, conversational interface.”

Moreover, the beginnings of Siri started when the U.S. Defense Department, and its goal to work with non-profit research institute SRI International to build a virtual assistant:

Thirty-five years after HAL’s big screen debut, turning the stuff of science fiction into fact fell to perhaps the only organization with a more outlandish imagination than a Lucas or Spielberg: the Defense Department.

In 2003, the agency’s investment arm, DARPA, tapped the non-profit research institute SRI International to lead a five-year, 500-person effort to build a virtual assistant, one the government hoped might yield software to help military commanders with both information overload and office chores. Although it wasn’t the project’s mission, this helper, the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, or CALO, would ultimately provide the inspiration and model for Siri.

The prototype ended up capturing the attention of Dag Kittlaus, general manager at Motorola at the time. Kittlaus soon quit Motorola and later teamed up with SRI colleagues to seed a startup for their virtual assistant. The rest is history. We won’t spoil the entire article, but the in-depth article is quite long so you’ll want to save this one for reading on the weekend. Check it out here.

As much as we want Siri to improve, the feature is still one of the fastest ways to achieve simple tasks such as setting a timer or sending a text message, hands free. How often are you using Siri?

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter, and @iPhoneinCanada, and on Google+.

  • SV650

    Haven’t used it yet – iPhone 3GS until December.

  • ThatGuy

    I use it multiple times daily. Mostly for setting reminders and directions. I wish Siri could have a built in a Shazam type feature so I can hold my phone up to the radio without using the app. Siri should also be able to control the brightness. I can’t tell you how many times I turn auto brightness off to conserve battery but forget to turn it up before stepping outside and realizing I can’t see my screen at all.

  • bradg17

    Love it and use it like 4-5 times per day, but there is definitely room for improvement. Certain things like improving the speech recognition software and reliability. Idk about you guys, but Siri isn’t exactly “consistent” on my iphone 5. Sometimes it hangs for like 45 seconds-1 minute. It would be great if it was fast every time!