Yalim's Lodge

Siri; The Artificial Intelligence Revolution has begun

In her interview with Fred Wilson, Carlota Perez, who inspired him greatly in forming his investment strategy, talks about five technological revolutions:

1) The Industrial Revolution (Machines and Canals)
2) Railways and The Steam Engine
3) Heavy Engineering using Cheap Steal
4) The Automobile, The Assembly Line and Mass Production of Electrical Appliances
5) The Information Revolution

On October 4 2011, with the introduction of Siri in iPhone 4S, a new technological revolution has begun:

6)The Artificial Intelligence Revolution
Siri signals the dawn of a new era in software and technology. In this decade, Artificial Intelligence and its application to business and everyday life will be the driving factor of innovation and economic growth.

A.I. will redefine everything. Cards will be dealt yet again. Commerce, manufacturing, biotech, science, internet, telecom, banking, insurance, homes and even the god damn television finally will succumb to its immense power. No moat, no pile of cash, no monopoly will save any company from extinction unless they catch up to the Artificial Intelligence Revolution.

The Magic of Siri
In the first days of computers, humans needed to know how to punch cards to make the computer do anything. That was really inefficient and could only be done by very few people who have the proper education. Then came the command line and the keyboard. Next in line was GUI and mouse. Recently, we started touching computers to make them do stuff for us.

Every step forward made new kinds of software possible. This new software was easier to use and learn than its predecessor. It was more useful and richer in features, too. At every step forward, not only more people could use computers, they were also able to do more advanced tasks more easily. Today, billions are able to incorporate computers to their daily lives in a useful way. Computers are also at the core of any scientific research in such a way that it is impossible to imagine one that doesn’t use a computer.

Yet still, most software requires special training. Software user interfaces can be so complicated that there are courses, books and certification programs only to learn how to operate them.
You might be a gifted architect but without learning AutoCAD you cannot design a building.

Siri eliminates the need for special training to use software. It throws away the mouse, the keyboard, the menus, the buttons, the tabs, the popup menus, the toolbars. It removes all the obstacles between your abilities and getting tasks done.

A writer doesn’t need to know how to use Word to write a story anymore. He just needs inspiration. An architect does not need to waste time learning AutoCAD to design a building. She just needs to be creative.  An executive does not need to wait a week for the IT department to produce him a new report. He just needs to be savvy enough to ask the right question.

In the next decade, thanks to the middle man called Artificial Intelligence, humans will perceive their computers as indispensable servants. The genuine intelligence of the human mind and the computer’s incredible ability to do dull work at amazing speeds will melt together. You will talk, you will touch, you will imagine and the servant will make it happen.

The Opportunity is not Artificial
The incredible thing about Siri or A.I. in general is that it departmentalizes knowledge. A.I. learns about topics. Today, Siri answers simple trivia questions, makes restaurant recommendations, talks about the weather and performs the tasks you can do with your phone such as setting up reminders and appointments.

There are a gazillion of other tasks that we do with our computers. A.I. needs to be thought to do all of them. It should be thought to make spreadsheets, draw 3D graphics or execute business processes.

In this decade, our job as software developers will be to teach the A.I. how to perform these tasks. It will all happen gradually. First, we are going to build bridges between the A.I and existing software. We will teach it how to use Excel. Next, we will rebuild Excel from ground up specifically optimized for A.I. Finally, there will be no Excel, just A.I. that knows how to prepare a spreadsheet. The App Store won’t sell Pages, Numbers and Keynote. It will sell the ability of preparing a document, spreadsheet and presentation. You will download an ability and your Siri will learn how to accomplish a task.

This way of thinking will be applied to all software. Software for every business task you can imagine such as budgeting, accounting, hiring will have to be rethought, reengineered and rebuilt in the light of A.I., possibly several times over.

The Pain will not be Artificial
What A.I. will do to current jobs and businesses will be difficult to watch. Everytime it learns to do something, there will be people and companies that are left behind. They will feel like someone just ripped off one of their limps. Imagine A.I. helps you prepare your monthly reports. Will you need the staff in the IT department who knows how to write reports and screens?

If A.I. knows about insurance, will you ever google for it? What if A.I. can help you with loans, morgage rates, attorneys, credit, donation, getting a degree, finding a hosting solution, accident claim, setting up a conference call and credit card balance transfer which happen to be the top 10 keywords Google makes its money from. What then? What if your business depends on Google for customers?

I could go on and on with examples but I think the point is loud and clear.

You are in or You are Out
This is not some futuristic bullshit. It is not intellectual masturbation. It is all happening now. Entrepreneurs; start imagining and prepare your pitches. VC’s; make your bets. Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, eBay and the like; either wake up and catch up to IBM and Apple or become irrelevant along the way. Traditional software developers; adapt or join the unemployment line. Managers; save a seat for the invisible member of every meeting. And as last but not the least…Consumers; buckle up, because this is going to be an amazing ride.

And to think that when Siri debuted, the crowd was disappointed that there was no IPhone 5 with a wider screen…

Yalim K. Gerger (@yalimgerger)

  • Anon

    Sorry, I’ve got to ask the question: are you new to technology? AI has been a latent aspect of numerous technologies for so long, yet you somehow manage to convey the message that it hasn’t existed in driving countless global corporations thus far. Machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision and robotics are all vital aspects of tech that have been incorporated subtly into so many different technologies that you’ve blindly ignored in this article.

    You’re right, this isn’t some futuristic bullshit; it’s just plain old ignorant bullshit.

  • Piskvor

    How is this different from the futuristic pitch that we’ve been hearing ever since ELIZA? It’s been always happening “real soon now”, for what, half a century? Excuse me while I don’t hold my breath.

  • craig

    “You will download an ability and your Siri will learn how to accomplish a task.”

    So, like the Matrix? :)

    Great post Yalim. I’m excited about the possibilities. I think A.I. starts now. With Siri it’s already in the consumers hands (or pockets!) and will grow quickly.

    To think that 5 years ago we didn’t have iPhones (or even decent smart phones) and now we have A.I. in our pockets… this is just incredible.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Thank you Craig.I think Siri is to A.I. what Apple II is to computers. So I think we have some pretty interesting years ahead.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    I think the difference is that it happened. Siri is in your hand. It crosses a threshold. It is a viable consumer product now. I will repeat what I wrote in my previous replies. I think Siri is to A.I. what Apple II is to computers.

  • My Gate

    I don’t get those Apple people…
    You put an old and long existing technology in their hands and they think it’s “revolutionary”, it’s something that didn’t exist before and will change the world and everything.
    You write about A.I. but there will NEVER be a software based A.I. Everything that is programmed has it’s defined purpose.
    If Siri really was A.I. kindish, you wouldn’t have to teach him everything, how to do this and that. The A.I. should understand text and would learn from those billion tutorials and books available on the internet.
    What you want is just ONE big giant programm to do everything you like, but that’s not an A.I. It isn’t ‘intelligent’ to perform something what someone taught/programmed you to do.
    Intelligence is create NEW things, have ideas, learn things on you own, THINK for you own, make decsions at your own, understand deeper meaning of texts and other things, it’s being human like.
    And as long as programs can’t really understand what you’re saying, they can’t be intelligent, therefor no A.I.
    Ask Siri what the meaning of life is and you get either 42 or some other nonsense OR ‘amazingly’ a pretty good description BUT all those answers are stored somewhere in a database and not an answer of Siri but a sentence of a humanbeing.

    So yes it’s still “futuristic bullshit”.

    Use a diffrent word than A.I. and we can start over with the discussion. ;-)

  • Piskvor

    Well, if Apple chooses to call their pattern-matching software A.I. and give it a cutesy name implying a personality, good for their bottom line, I guess. I’ve seen enough of such marketing gimmicks to be deeply sceptical.

  • Mircea

    As posted before by an unwanted commentator, no it’s not “futuristic bullshit” it’s ignorant bullshit.

  • bob

    Being able to respond to predefined voice input is not AI.

  • Ulrich

    Googles voice recognition has already been out for some time already. It is really good with recognizing what you say. But it didn’t change my way of using the mobile phone.
    I could test Siri on an iPhone 4s today and there really is nothing special to it. It is pretty nice if you know what the pre-defined commands are. But far from beeing a revolution.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    OK. How about Synthetic Intelligence? S.I. Would that help you view my article in a more agreeable way? Siri: The Synthetic Intelligence Revolution has begun. :-)

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    Siri is not voice recognition. Siri has a long history. It was bought by Apple for about $200 mil. You don’t pay $200 mil for voice recognition.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    OK, fair enough. You have the right to be skeptical. :-) .

  • My Gate


  • My Gate

    It wasn’t the ‘artificial’ part that makes your statements wrong, it’s the ‘intelligence’ part.
    Also where is now the difference between ‘artificial’ and ‘synthetic’? From my perspective something that’s synthetic is automaticly artificial…
    Like I already said a software is programmed to do a specific purpose and there’s just no intelligence form the application side. The ONLY thing that’s intelligent is the programmer who created the software.

    Or let us asume that Siri is intelligent.
    Why exactly isn’t it able to make some reservation in an other country than the U.S.?

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    I don’t think Siri is Data from Star Trek. I don’t view the definition of A.I. in a strict way that the software should think on its own. I take the term a lot more loosely.

    A.I. can do predefined things that it is programmed to do, nothing more. This is just fine. I don’t think anyone is claiming anything more. It is basically a new kind of a UI to interact with software.

    However, in this decade, A.I. will be programmed to do more and more useful and complicated stuff. This is my speculation.

  • Ger156

    thanks, you inspired me to think more…

  • http://www.informationworkshop.org Mark Hernandez

    Yalim, you definitely get it. Don’t be bothered by the negative comments. We ignore them and move ahead. We see the swell coming and we’re getting ready to try and surf the wave that looks like it will be a nice one.

    Like everything else in our day and age, it’s a complex topic, and when we have to use words to communicate what we see, the words themselves become problematic. We insightful people study the complexity and look past the words and “see.”

    You’re right on the money. Ignore those who disagree and listen to those who have insights which help make what we see more accurate.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger


    Thank you for your kind words. After reading your post I could not help but share this video on my blog.


  • Walt French

    Yes, one definition of AI is “stuff computers can’t quite do yet.”

    But note that Siri responds to a huge range of inputs, and is quite flexible in divining the user’s meaning. I don’t think we need to worry whether Siri fits into your particular definition of AI, but rather, as TFA says, whether there’s some threshold crossed in how devices interpret and leverage the human’s intent. By that measure, Siri looks pretty huge to me.

  • http://www.informationworkshop.org Mark Hernandez

    That video is very interesting! John Gruber has a few recent posts about the value of visualizations like this.

    It’s also interesting to note that in the Knowledge Navigator video, the assistant “responds” to stimuli and commands, and he’s able to also “summarize.” Siri can only respond so far. But there is at least one more skill…

    A good assistant would also be able to “anticipate.” For example, imagine Siri telling you out of the blue “The (your city name here) Early Music Society has just published their 2012 concert series and there will be performances by Telemann.” (having noticed that your iTunes collection has a lot of Telemann pieces in it.) Or “Clayton Christensen has just published an article you might be interested in.” noticing you bought one of his audio books. Only integrated solution vendors that can see into their own ecosystem can pull stuff like this off.

    Nothing but fun to think about. We’ve got a long way to go. But you’re right. It’s really starting to happen.

  • Walt French

    Let’s pretend that Siri is just voice recognition, a little semantic help to differentiate “my office” from “my awfulest,” then real semantic parsing with a back end of about 16 apps it can reach right into. Forget the AI label.

    Already, I am seeing it dramatically change people’s use of phones. A friend recently texted she’d be a few minutes late for a drink; we were surprised to find that the friend had texted safely while driving… using Siri. Of course, texting is a many-times-per-day activity for Millennials and younger types, and even frequent for my boomer demographic.

    So regardless of how innovative Apple has been with the tech, they are continuing to show their well-known expertise in putting tech into ordinary people’s hands. And here, they have found a way to take dictation capabilities that have been not even close to good enough for real writers (see Asymco’s 10/18 post) , and make it an excellent tool for millions.

    Call it what you want. Millions will use it heavily and Apple will sell an unprecedented number of phones, probably gain market share, due solely to it.

  • Anonymous

    The cute name existed before Apple got ahold of it. You know, SRI.

  • Christian Heidarson

    As I responded to your post on Asymco, I think the ‘Intelligence’ angle is not taking you anywhere useful. Which is a shame, since I agree with pretty much everything else you say here. This perspective of yours w/re Siri indicating disruption, apps moving towards more implicit interfaces etc. could be developed further without getting stuck on the AI term. I think ‘voice’ is more helpful than AI in describing Siri and definitely more likely to guide us in what to expect from Apple’s next UI revolution after voice.

    The way I could see Siri impacting the role of AI in electronics is by gently familiarizing us with the concept of dealing with our machines in a more ‘natural’ way. However, note that while we are easily seduced by the idea, we are also experts at doing impromptu TURING tests. I remember when iTunes first got its Genius feature- for a while I started feeling that the new playlists were done through some profound level of AI, as I was so emotionally pleased with the results. There was a moment when i started relating to the genius feature as if it was a primitive form of intelligence. But very quickly I was able to discern the patterns of its choices and reverse-engineer the principles upon which it was doing its mixes. I now understand it instinctively as a very polished form of ‘shuffle’.

    I expect the same with Siri. It’s cute and seductive to start asking it all kinds of questions, and expect it to understand some human concepts. But as soon as we start sensing the boundaries, we stop treating it like an AI and instead as a very robust form of voice command system.

    Why press the point: Because you say “A.I. will redefine everything. [...] Entrepreneurs; start imagining and prepare your pitches. VC’s; make your bets.”
    AI as a universal disruptor has not happened yet, as Siri does not rely on better AI but rather on a more polished implementation of voice operation. So your advice to entrepreneurs and VCs is likely premature. I’d strongly advice against making bets on any company that proposes their next-generation AI system as their secret sauce.

  • http://www.gerger.co Yalim K. Gerger

    If all our disagreement is about wording, I think I am cool with that. I used the term A.I. because Siri is widely viewed as A.I. among technologists. Its roots are from A.I. research. It gained public attention as an A.I. startup and Steve Jobs himself viewed them as an A.I. company.

    Regarding the call of action to VC’s and entrepreneurs: Most VC funds and entrepreneurs have a long term view of five to seven years for returns. So they gotto, want to, looking for opportunities to act prematurely.I wager that this area call it A.I. or Voice or whatever will bring huge returns in the five seven year time frame.

  • no user

    Here is an example to help you see the difference between artificial and synthetic. Sealants for the automotive paint industry are entirely synthetic. Sealants are not artificial but real products that perform a function. Nothing artificial about them!

    In the sense that you dispute intelligence. You claim that it is not intelligence if it is just doing what it was taught. You mean like all of us humans? There is little doubt that SIRI is considered AI by the technology world, you withstanding. ;) It is not capable of cognitive reasoning or learning but that is not the only criteria for AI.

    If I ask SIRI for the nearest Chinese restaurant it will parse my query, find my present location, then give me the name address and phone number of that restaurant even thoughI did not ask for the phone number. It will also pull up a map showing that restaurant and other pertinent info such as what their hours of operation are, whatCredit cards they take, whether they are expensive or inexpensive and even offer ratings, again even though I did not ask for this specifically. That would be considered AI in most circles and perhaps “Magic” in some others.

    If I ask SIRI to schedule a one hour meeting for the 14 programmers in my AI group and book a conference room for the meeting, It will scour all 14 members, as well as my own calendar, and look for an appropriate hour time slot when we, and a suitable conference room, all are available. It will send meeting notifications to all and book the conference room for that meeting. IT will set an alert to give me ample time to attend the meeting as well. That would be considered AI in most circles and perhaps “Magic” in some others.

    SIRI is probably more aptly called a smart personal assistant. You apparently believe that it has to be able to actually think and react to stimuli all on its own to be AI. It is just a matter of how you and I define AI.

    While this may be considered baby-steps in realm of AI, the really remarkable thing, IMO, is that this is a consumer product and it is available to tens of thousands perhaps millions. As this is only the beginning, buckle your seat belt as the pace will certainly quicken.