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10/3/2011
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iOS 5 Voice Assistant To Be 'World Changing'

Voice Assistant feature in iOS 5 will use artificial intelligence and be a groundbreaking event, says co-founder of Siri, a company Apple bought in April 2010.

One of the big surprises to come from iOS 5's debut at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference back in June was the lack of any news about voice actions or voice controls. Apple purchased a company called Siri in April 2010, and many had assumed that Apple was building Siri's voice action technology into iOS. So far, Apple has said zip about it.

Speculation that voice controls would be introduced into iOS 5 began to rise again several weeks ago when traces of it were spotted in one of the iOS 5 betas. Those traces were later removed. The other big clue is that Apple has yet to issue a Gold Master for iOS 5, meaning the features of the platform aren't 100% complete and still under development.

I surmised in my iPhone 5: Top 5 Changes To Expect piece over the weekend that voice controls may be the "one more thing" that Apple adds to the end of its presentation on Tuesday.

Today, one more big piece fell into place that raise the stakes enormously.

Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky recently shared his thoughts about Siri and its part in the Assistant feature during an interview with 9to5Mac.

"Make no mistake: Apple's 'mainstreaming' artificial intelligence in the form of a Virtual Personal Assistant is a groundbreaking event. I'd go so far as to say it is a world-changing event."

Wait a minute, did Winarsky say artificial intelligence? Whoa. Gimme more of that please.

"Right now a few people dabble in partial AI-enabled apps like Google Voice Actions, Vlingo, or Nuance Go," Winarky continued. "Siri was many iterations ahead of these technologies, or at least it was two years ago. This is real AI with real market use. Apple will enable millions upon millions of people to interact with machines with natural language. The PAL [Personal Assistant that Learns] will get things done and this is only the tip of the iceberg. We're talking another technology revolution. A new computing paradigm shift."

That's big talk for what many have expected to be just another feature on a smartphone. Winarsky blames the Personal Assistant that Learns as the main reason for the delay of iOS 5 and the new iPhone. He believes that the feature is so advanced that it requires more capable hardware--such as a dual-core 1-GHz processor.

"I'm not familiar with Apple's roadmap and any delays but I can say that AI takes a lot of computing power," he explained. "The Siri software needs to cache data, needs to access a big data set at wide bandwidth, and needs a big processor to crunch all of the numbers. When we originally released Siri for the iPhone 3GS, we had to perform all kinds of optimizations and shortcuts to get it to work efficiently. All I can say is that it will likely run much better on a faster phone."

Adding artificial intelligence to a smartphone in the form of a personal assistant would be a major leap forward, even for Apple. It could be the one killer feature that would convince the masses to ignore a ho-hum hardware upgrade.

We'll find out for sure on Tuesday. Stay tuned.

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