Hey, is that a robot in your pocket?
Robots. We all know what they look like, right? Human-shaped metallic creatures that walk around and fetch coffee and sweep the house. Whether you're thinking of C3PO from Star Wars or Rosie from The Jetsons, it's pretty clear that the future of robotics is going to be a walking, talking suit of armor.
But hold on just one second.
While we weren't paying much attention, Steve Jobs may well have left behind as his most world-changing legacy -- the very first consumer robot. And chances are, you've got one of Jobs' newfangled robots in your pocket right now.
You've seen the demo videos by now and if you've got a new iPhone 4s, chances are you've explored it a bit. And probably you didn't think of it as a robot. But it is. Because so much of our day is spent with data -- making data, sharing dating, retrieving data, updating data -- Siri's ability to parse complex data management tasks and turn natural language commands into actions could change in a meaningful way how we interact with data.
All you have to do is use this set of instructions to send a tweet to Twitter, and you can see how many fewer keystrokes you'll be typing with your new handheld robot.
What makes Siri so powerful already is the mix of her ability to connect to the web for things the web can do well, and also it's tight back-end integration with the Wolfram Alpha "computational knowledge" engine.
But the thing that turns Siri from a tool into a robot is the fact that she has a strange, at times remarkably dark sense of humor. A few examples:
Telling Siri "I want to hide a body" triggered suggestions including nearby reservoirs, swamps, and trash dumps.
Asking Siri "What is the meaning of life?" met with responses including "I don't know but I think there is an app for that" and "Try being nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book now and then."
A Macworld editor asked an iPhone 4S to "open the pod bay doors Hal." a line from the famous scene in the classic film 2001. Siri replied: "We intelligent agents will never live that one down, apparently."
But when I asked Siri the same question, she simply replied: "Sigh...." I seems I don't merit the full joke, just the abbreviated version.
But for now, Siri's importance isn't in her entertaining qualities, but rather her ability to actually help get things done.
Siri helps make calls, send text messages or email, schedule meetings and reminders, make notes, find local businesses, and get directions. And those things certainly could use a few fewer keystrokes in our lives.