In this week's issue, Bianca Bosker looks at Siri -- not only what Apple's "humble personal assistant" can do for us, but also how it was initially envisioned, and what it might become. As Bosker writes, the story of Siri is part of the largest artificial intelligence project in U.S. history, funded by the Defense Department to equip a virtual assistant with human-like reasoning and learning abilities. It's the story of a scrappy, innovative startup acquired by the world's largest tech giant. And it's a story rooted in the belief that cutting-edge technology can lift us into a higher state of living, "by freeing us of the irritants and drudgeries of life that keep us from pursuing our more serious interests."
Tracing Siri's development, Bosker places it in the larger but lesser-known context of artificially intelligent assistants, from early phone-based assistants like Wildfire to Microsoft Office's much-mocked Clippy. And she lifts the veil on years of infighting over what Siri should aim to do, as well as on the charges from some of its supporters that Apple's version hasn't yet lived up to its original potential -- even as its slogan, "Your wish is its command," promises to, as Bosker puts it, "fulfill any desire."
Elsewhere in the issue, Howard Fineman kicks off our new series, "The Road Forward: Obama's Second Term Challenges," a nod to the president's 2012 campaign slogan "Forward." As Fineman writes, "He has yet to improve the lives and lot of average Americans; to erect the edifices of health care and banking reform; to enact immigration reform or implement strong new environmental rules; to set a consistent course for our role in the world; or to soothe the corrosive tone of public life in Washington."
To take stock of Obama's accomplishments and failures so far, and to document the ways he's trying to make good on his pledge to move the country forward, we've put 18 Huffington Post reporters in Washington and New York, plus six in Canada and Europe, on the beat. We'll be putting the spotlight on a range of issues that will define Obama's second term: from poverty, education reform, and foreign affairs to bank regulation, the environment and immigration. We begin with Dave Jamieson and Arthur Delaney on Obama's crucial but fragile relationship with America's foundering middle class; Mark Gongloff on how Obama must reform the financial system; David Wood on the president's drone war; and Tom Zeller on the high expectations and big challenges Obama will face on climate change in his second term. By measuring Obama's performance on these and other defining issues, The Road Forward will, as Fineman puts it, keep the spotlight on whether Obama "will be shrewd, persistent and tough enough to turn great promise into true greatness."
This story appears in Issue 33 of our weekly iPad magazine, This story appears in Issue 33 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Jan. 25.