Siri Cofounder: Apple “Assistant” Launch Will Be “World Changing Event”

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Siri cofounder Norman Winarsky said recently that if Apple is launching its rumored Siri-powered “Assistant” virtual personal assistant, it won’t just be a big deal, it will be a “world changing event” that could well usher in yet another Apple-led “technology revolution.”

It's an Apple world...

Mr. Winarsky is an executive of SRI (formerly the Stanford Research Institute), an independent and non-profit research and development group that often works on publicly-funded research programs that then get spun off into private-sector enterprises.

In addition to the self-titled Siri project, SRI has been involved in the formation of companies like Nuance, Artificial Muscle, Intuity Medical, Princeton Lightwave, and many more. It’s Siri that concerns us at The Mac Observer, because Apple acquired the company in April of 2010.

Siri was first seen as a search-related acquisition that fueled rumors that Apple was going into the search business in competition with Google. Then-CEO Steve Jobs deflected questions about that, however, saying that Siri’s technology was about artificial intelligence, not search. To that effect, Siri Assistant, which was released before the Siri acquisition, is still available on the App Store.

That was in June of 2010—cut to May of 2011, and rumors start heating up that Apple could be licensing Nuance’s speech recognition technology to leverage the technology bought with Siri and bring some kind of powerful voice-enabled controls to iPhone, all powered by the company’s massive new data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

Those rumors went nowhere fast at June’s WWDC media event, as neither Siri nor Nuance were featured in any of the things Apple showed off about iOS 5. In the last few days, however, those rumors have resurfaced, and many believe Apple is ready to unleash a Siri-powered technology called simply “Assistant.”

9to5Mac tracked down Siri cofounder Norm Winarsky to find out what he thought about these rumors. Mr. Winarsky stayed with SRI when Apple bought Siri, which means that while he isn’t in a position to know what Apple is specifically doing with the Siri technology, he is in a position to offer informed speculation, and we found that speculation to be very exciting.

“Apple’s ‘mainstreaming’ Artificial Intelligence in the form of a Virtual Personal Assistant is a ground-breaking event.” Mr. Winarsky told the site: “I’d go so far as to say it is a World-Changing event.”

He also took the opportunity to dismiss Google’s own voice-recognition technology as being a couple of generations behind what Siri was doing two years ago, before Apple bought the company.

He added, “This is real AI with real market use. If the rumors are true, Apple will enable millions upon millions of people to interact with machines with natural language. The PAL will get things done and this is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re talking another technology revolution. A new computing paradigm shift.”

To drive home his point, Mr. Winarsky went so far as to liken Apple’s potential contribution to the world of technology to the way the company changed computing back in the early 1980s with the mouse and GUI technology developed by Doug Englebart at the Xerox PARC (technology that Apple licensed from Xerox for Lisa and Mac).

“Just as Steve Jobs took that technology and ran with it,” Mr. Winarsky said, “we believe that Apple will use Siri to start another revolution.”

Apple’s “Let’s Talk iPhone” event is scheduled for Tuesday, October 4th, at 10:00 AM, PDT. If the company is going to announce “Assistant” in 2011, it will be at that event. contributed to some images in this article.

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“Let’s Talk iPhone” -> “Let’s Talk, iPhone”.

Add a comma and the tagline supports this speculation.


Mr. Winarsky is indulging in some hubris no doubt, but I am really excited to see this feature in action. I’m intrigued that Bryan describes iPhone voice control as “powered by the company?s massive new data center.” Google’s dictation works this way but every rumor I’ve heard about “Assistant” implies that it will be implemented entirely in the phone.

Personally I can’t imaging using it much outside my car; I’ve tried talking to voice command software on a computer before and the bemused staring of anyone within earshot really dissuades you from sticking with it.

other side

If this is true, it had better work PERFECTLY.

Nobody needs another Newton-esque debacle.


“Real AI”?  Really?
I’m naming my new phone WinterMute.


The Apple of today is not the same one that gave us the Newton. Just a quick look at recent products show us that. Apple has strong leadership and some of the best engineers in the world. They do their homework and don’t use technology before it’s perfected. They saw how voice recognition has reached a success level that Apple could integrate into it’s mobile platforms. No one thinks it’s weird to make a phone conversation on their IPhone, it will look no different when your telling your IPhone instructions to do a task—it’s a whole different thing then talking to a desktop computer in an office unless your using a head mounted boom microphone.

Lee Dronick

Personally I can?t imaging using it much outside my car; I?ve tried talking to voice command software on a computer before and the bemused staring of anyone within earshot really dissuades you from sticking with it.

Yeah, “Call Tim Cook”, but otherwise it would be clumsy. Remember the computer voice control scene from Star Trek

Pashtun Wally

This reminds me of an Alan Kay article in Scientific American back around ‘83-‘84, in which he talked about “software agents” - programs that could receive plain-speech tasks, break them down into resultant steps, and choose & take actions to achieve those tasks on behalf of the user.

Fred Pohl described similar software types in his “Gateway”.  (Interestingly, he also described a tech very (VERY) much like our internet-connected smartphones in another book (though I’m drawing a blank on that title)).

If this is the essential nature of Assistant, then ‘world-changing’ is a modest description.

@ilikeimac:  you should look up ‘hubris’ before using it again.


Apple’s use of the words “Let’s Talk iPhone” does evokes hopes of talking to a computer, like Apple’s 1987 Knowledge Navigator video. If Siri is improved, integrated with Nuance and existing iOS apps FaceTime and Voice Control, Apple could very nearly have achieved that. Hopefully, it won’t require an A5 processor, so some existing iPhones, the iPad and the iPod Touch 4G can perform such miracles as well.


The Navigator vid was the first thing I thought of when I read “artificial intelligence.” How cool would it be to show the Navigator video and then demo the phone doing something nearly as complex.


We shall have to wait and see, but if Apple are implementing Siri technology with iOS 5, depending on what is actually included and functional with the release, then I would agree with Mr Winarsky’s assessment; this may well be a game changer.

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