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In another of the many amazing quotes in that 3,500-word NEWSWEEK interview with Steve Jobs, which appeared in a 1984 special issue of the magazine, the Apple co-founder totally envisions Siri—the virtual personal assistant the company announced earlier this week.
I’ve always thought it would be really wonderful to have a little box, a sort of slate that you could carry along with you. You’d get one of these things maybe when you were 10 years old, and somehow you’d turn it on and it would say, you know, “Where am I?” And you’d somehow tell it you were in California and it would say, “Oh, who are you?”
“My name’s Steven.”
“Really? How old are you?”
“What are we doing here?”
“Well, we’re in recess and we have to go back to class.”
You’d start to teach it about yourself. And it would just keep storing all this information about you and maybe it would recognize that every Friday afternoon you like to do something special, and maybe you’d like it to help you with this routine. So about the third time it asks you: “Well, would you like me to do this for you every Friday?” You say, “Yes,” and before long it becomes an incredibly powerful helper. It goes with you everywhere you go. It knows most of the raw information in your life that you’d like to keep, but then starts to make connections between things, and one day when you’re 18 and you’ve just split up with your girlfriend it says: “You know, Steve, the same thing has happened three times in a row.”
Here’s how Apple pitches Siri on its site today:
It understands what you say.
Talk to Siri as you would to a person. Say something like “Tell my wife I’m running late.” “Remind me to call the vet.” “Any good burger joints around here?” And Siri answers you. It does what you say and finds the information you need. And then it hits you. You’re actually having a conversation with your iPhone.
It knows what you mean.
Siri not only understands what you say, it’s smart enough to know what you mean. So when you ask “Any good burger joints around here?” Siri will reply “I found a number of burger restaurants near you.” Then you can say “Hmm. How about tacos?” Siri remembers that you just asked about restaurants, so it will look for Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood. And Siri is proactive, so it will question you until it finds what you’re looking for.
We’re talking a difference of 27, 28 years here, but Steve finally got his wish. The world finally got its “incredibly powerful helper,” one day before he died.