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Meet Siri's Little Brother, Trapit 183

Posted by timothy
from the ai-always-knows-what-you-want dept.
waderoush writes "Virtually overnight, Siri, the personal assistant technology in Apple's new iPhone 4S, has brought state-of-the-art AI to the consumer mainstream. Well, it turns out there's more where that came from. Trapit, a second spinoff of SRI International's groundbreaking CALO project (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes), is preparing for a public beta launch this fall. The Web-based news aggregator lets users set up persistent 'traps' or filters on specific topics. Over time, the traps learn to include more articles that match users' interests and exclude those that don't. Philosophically, it's the exact opposite of social-curation news apps like Flipboard or Pulse, since it uses adaptive learning and sense-making technologies to learn what users like, not what their friends like. 'Just as Siri is revolutionizing the human-computer interaction on the mobile device, Trapit will revolutionize Web search as we know it today,' the company asserts."
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Meet Siri's Little Brother, Trapit

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  • Important (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RenHoek (101570) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @06:21AM (#37802770) Homepage

    While a program that fetches more things you are interested in is great, you should realize the consequences of such a program. In particular you should realize the concept of a filter bubble. Namely that by only picking out things you are already interested in, you exclude things that you could be interested in or things that are too important to exclude.

    There's been a TED talk about this, I suggest you watch it so that you can take active steps (when needed) to step out of your comfort zone now and then:

    http://www.thefilterbubble.com/ted-talk [thefilterbubble.com]

    • While a program that fetches more things you are interested in is great, you should realize the consequences of such a program. In particular you should realize the concept of a filter bubble. Namely that by only picking out things you are already interested in, you exclude things that you could be interested in or things that are too important to exclude.

      There's been a TED talk about this, I suggest you watch it so that you can take active steps (when needed) to step out of your comfort zone now and then:

      http://www.thefilterbubble.com/ted-talk [thefilterbubble.com]

      I already have a real world filter bubble. I like the the things I like. I like to go out of my comfort zone now and then but I often end up back there as its my comfort zone :) I would be intrigued to see what the AI would do for me.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        The real world is far more complex and unpredictable than these virtual filter bubbles.

        You individually in your filter bubble is no loss - to you, or to anyone else. But millions, billions of filter bubbles, disconnected from reality and from each other destroys the society that needs reality and interconnections among disparate people.

        There's a reason people who come to NYC learn to respect it for being "real": it's hard for all but the richest to avoid people unlike them or difficult realities. There's a

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      How is this different from selecting a number of topical sites you are interested in by hand?

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      The piece that seems to be missed, is that what everyone here is worried about just means that Siri isn't all that "magical" if it narrows what you are exposed to. If it really fulfilled it's promise, it should EXPAND what you are exposed to.
    • While a program that fetches more things you are interested in is great, you should realize the consequences of such a program. In particular you should realize the concept of a filter bubble. Namely that by only picking out things you are already interested in, you exclude things that you could be interested in or things that are too important to exclude.

      From the perspective of a person's personal life, that's all true. But from a work perspective, this could be really useful.

      Like a lot of academic departments, we maintain a list of news items related to our faculty's research. Right now one tool we use is a customized Google news feed - but that's not very sophisticated, and we get a lot of false positives. If TrapIt works well, it could make that portion of our PR person's job quite a bit easier.

    • by JimboFBX (1097277)

      People who listen exclusively to conservative news radio is a great example of this. Absolutely blows my mind to hear what some people actually believe and most importantly, what they believe others believe as well.

      That said Siri sounds like something I wouldn't use because talking is an inferior input device that voids all sense of privacy I get when i use my phone.

  • It's a trap! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by w0mprat (1317953) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @07:23AM (#37802970)

    "Virtually overnight, Siri, the personal assistant technology in Apple's new iPhone 4S, has brought state-of-the-art AI to the consumer mainstream."

    I just choked on my cup of tea reading that. It's voice recognition feed into some search engines, Wolfram Alpha, Yelp and some snippets from Wikipedia and the result plays through text to speech, mashed up with voice commands. If you call such a remix of off-the-shelf tech and existing services state-of-the art AI then you must be joking. Indeed voice commands have been in many phones for a while, Android has had it, including dictation, since the dawn of the time. The only part about that is right is Apple's sucess at re-launching things that have been around for a while as something new, and actually getting people to use them. FaceTime for example, is mere video calling which many phones support, but nobody uses.

    What's worse is Apple probably managed to get a patent or two on Siri. It is so obvious that a bunch of coders at a hackathon could put something similar together in a few hours and have a demo of the same thing. Oh... wait... they've done exactly that, it's called Iris Alpha from a firm called, and it took eight hours.

    Point is, while Apple's idea is clever, the polish and packaging good and the marketing cleverest, but it is absolutely not start of the art artificial intelligence, it's the sorry state of artificial stupidity, and why we have little to fear in the way of robot uprisings yet.

    Give it a cute name and throw in some smart ass answers to inevitable cheeky questions and Apple has fooled a lot of people, clearly.

    • Re:It's a trap! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @07:31AM (#37802994) Homepage

      How do you expect people who do not have real intelligence to recognize artificial intelligence?

    • by msobkow (48369)

      No kidding. Talk about sensationalism. This is so far from artificial intelligence it's not even funny.

    • by msobkow (48369)

      It's not even an expert system.

    • by msobkow (48369)

      Sorry. I was referring to Siri itself. I misunderstood and thought they were claiming Siri is an AI.

      Still, adaptive learning algorithms are not AI. They're a piece of the puzzle, but don't read too much into it. Learning is necessary, but it doesn't meet the "intelligence" criteria.

      • by jfengel (409917)

        So... between UNIVAC and the Turing Test there's absolutely nothing that might be of any use at all?

      • by savuporo (658486)
        Why ? Turing test is hardly a measure of useful artificial intelligence. Without getting into much details, even your friend wikipedia elaborates [wikipedia.org] on the subject. The most important point is its irrelevance to real world applications. A car that drives you cross country autonomously does have a ton of useful AI in it, but for it to pass a Turing test would be just completely pointless. Neither would your home assistant robot that runs errands, does grocery shopping and household chores need to be able to c
        • by msobkow (48369)

          The Turing Test is only step one. There are other ways to evaluate AI capabilities, and other aspects of intelligence than participating in one-on-one communications. There are chatbots which have done very well on the Turing Test, but they fail other subsequent tests.

          Self-driving cars and a host of very useful applications can be serviced by an expert system and a few learning algorithms. But you'd never want a true AI driving your car, because you'd have to teach it HOW first. An expert system with

          • by savuporo (658486)
            A lot of western researchers seem to think "true" AI is somehow the holy grail. Its the evolution and further combination of what you call the "expert systems", that is bringing about the presence of artificial intelligence in everyday lives. Even if this presence may not appear truly "intelligent", it will and is already surpassing humans in certain capabilities.

            You see, nothing says that the so called "expert systems" have to be based on canned logic and simple rules only, its perfectly possible to comp
    • by msobkow (48369)

      To put it in perspective, a baysian spam filter is an adaptive algorithm. No one would ever claim it's intelligent.

    • Re:It's a trap! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MikeMo (521697) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @09:43AM (#37803460)
      It's not just "voice with a search engine". You can speak to Siri casually, using phrases that can't have been hard-coded. It also understands context: you can say "do I need a raincoat in Seattle tomorrow?", and then "how about in Portland?" and Siri understands the reference.

      But, just go on hating in ignorance, it's so much easier.

      • It's not just "voice with a search engine". You can speak to Siri casually, using phrases that can't have been hard-coded.

        Strangely, replacing "speak" with "type", you can do that to several search engines, like Wolfram Alpha.

        Oddly enough, Wolfram Alpha is where Siri sends many inquiries to actually get responses.

        So, yeah, its search with a voice recognition interface.

        • by SpiceWare (3438)
          What search engines can send your messages and update your calendar?
          • by oakgrove (845019)
            The guy said send many inquiries not all of them. Obviously, something with messaging or calendar in it is puzzled out and sent to acted upon accordingly. They probably took a statistical sample of people and how they would actually say something like "Schedule a meeting with so-and-so for next thursday regarding the whatever", took all of the common variations, set it to pick up on the keywords and let it rip. It's not hard for a programmer to pick up on how they did it and it isn't really revolutionary
            • by MikeMo (521697)
              It's interesting that you surmise all this from your external view of the operation, even though the authors state that Siri is doing something quite different. Does your confident assessment require you to conclude that they are lying?
              • by oakgrove (845019)
                I would expect the authors of the program to use whatever buzzword laden verbiage they could come up with to tell me how revolutionary and "different" their product is. It's called marketing. That's why I have to investigate it myself and cut through the bs. As someone "skilled in the arts" of programming, I have yet to see anything within Siri that 99 percent of which can't be accomplished as described in my GP post.
          • Google calendar! I use the calendar widget. I type "Schedule Dinner with X on June 23rd 5:30pm" and press enter, it automatically creates the entry.

      • by RedK (112790)
        No it doesn't. I tried for 5 minutes to have it "cancel" an e-mail I was in the midst of having it write up without using the word cancel. It never understood even the simplest of phrasings I tried, including : "Nevermind", "Don't send this e-mail", "I changed my mind", etc.. etc... Maybe you should own and play with an iPhone 4S before you just repeat whatever you saw in a demo on the Internet.
      • by kiwimate (458274)

        Honestly, not saying it may not be implemented/integrated very well, but you're talking voice recognition with a search engine that can do some basic natural language processing (NLP) [wikipedia.org].

        There really isn't anything new about these separate components. It may be slickly done (probably is, being Apple), but what you've described is nowhere near "state of the art" for AI. I have a 21 year background in AI, for frame of reference.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      So, you've learned nothing about it - Apple didn't invent Siri - they bought it, so "probably managed to get a patent on it" just belies your bias here.

      The sentence is a little sensational - it's a smart system as far as voice recognition and organisation goes, but it's certainly not cutting edge AI.

    • by Surt (22457)

      Depressingly, that's the state of the art in AI. There's really nothing substantively better out there.

      • by oakgrove (845019)
        You don't think Watson is substantially better than this? I doubt Siri would have been able to beat Ken Jennings on jeopardy. I'm not saying Watson is the end all be all but it is certainly a lot closer than this.
        • by Surt (22457)

          I don't think they have Watson running on a cell phone, yet. Siri is just Watson on smaller hardware.

          • I hate to break it to you, but Siri (both the voice recognition part and the natural language processing part) isn't running on a phone. It's running on some clusters somewhere and the results are fed to a phone.
    • Re:It's a trap! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertourist@[ ]net.nl ['xms' in gap]> on Saturday October 22, 2011 @12:36PM (#37804480)

      I just choked on my cup of tea reading that. It's voice recognition feed into some search engines, Wolfram Alpha, Yelp and some snippets from Wikipedia and the result plays through text to speech, mashed up with voice commands. If you call such a remix of off-the-shelf tech and existing services state-of-the art AI then you must be joking.

      If it's so obvious and easy to do, why haven't you done it? From reports from actual users, it seems to me that for the first time we have a voice recognition system that can do more than respond to a small number of precisely-defined words. If that's not state-of-the-art, I want to know what world you live in, and can I have some of the futuristic tech you must be using?

      • by msobkow (48369)

        So you're saying that automating the copy-paste from a Dragon Naturally Speaking document and pasting it into the search bar is novel enough to warrant a patent and praise? Don't confuse the first to do it that you've heard of with meaning they were the first to think of it.

    • Re:It's a trap! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tom (822) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @12:38PM (#37804496) Homepage Journal

      Indeed voice commands have been in many phones for a while,

      Including older iPhones - but here's the problem: They barely work. I use it very occasionally for simple things, like getting the time in winter when the phone is somewhere in an inside pocket.

      From all I've seen, Siri works. That right there is the entire secret. It doesn't have 25613 features, but it works.

      What's worse is Apple probably managed to get a patent or two on Siri.

      They bought it. If there were any patents, they certainly now own them, but it's not Apple's fault or decision. Siri was almost complete when it got bought up.

      It is so obvious that a bunch of coders at a hackathon could put something similar together in a few hours and have a demo of the same thing. Oh... wait... they've done exactly that, it's called Iris Alpha from a firm called, and it took eight hours.

      Allegedly. Plust quite frankly, this nice video here:
      https://market.android.com/details?id=com.dexetra.iris [android.com]
      has me minus-convinced. Funny how there is always a cut between the question and the answer...

      Point is, while Apple's idea is clever, the polish and packaging good and the marketing cleverest, but it is absolutely not start of the art artificial intelligence,

      Agreed. It is, however, the state of the art of the personal assistant. It is precisely the polish, integration and Steve's obsession with perfection that makes it a success. I'm sure there's at least a hundred prototype projects around that can do more, have more advanced AI, etc. etc. etc. - but none of them are in a state where you could put them out into a mass market.

      And that's why Apple is making more money than they know what to do with, and the Iris Alpha coders are playing "look ma" in the Android market place.

      Personal disclaimer: Don't get this wrong as a lack of respect. The same reason is why a friend of mine makes a living with computer games, while I have the better game ideas but barely make what I spend on engine licenses, etc. and consider it a hobby - when I think a game is done, he starts the polishing process, the other 50% of development.

      And Apple is a master of that part.

  • Trapit! Itsatrap! My cellphone is a TRACFONE. AT&T's logo is still the death star. And the trump, Microsoft.

  • by DougReed (102865) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @08:15AM (#37803092)

    Apple's Siri is not necessarily 'State of the Art', but like just about everything Apple does... It just works. Siri is causing a splash because ... unlike Android. It works properly. I don't use voice on my Android because it is worthless to me. I say 'Call my wife' It says. 'Calling Lowes Home Center'. It NEVER EVER gets it right. I have several friends with Androids and only one friend with that perfect voice that can get it to understand him, and even he often has to ask it twice . My wife HATES my Android and never bothered with a Smart phone before because she did not really like them. Too big and bulky. Her phone finally broke and she bought the 4S.

    Like everything else Apple does. It just works. She talks to it. It understands every word. I talk to it ... It understands every word. .. and it ALWAYS seems to say something appropriate in response. True that the Android voice can do more than Siri. But I would rather have a voice that can do less properly than one that can do lots of stuff wrong. The only thing I find the Android voice useful for is a good laugh. I fire it up occasionally and ask it something and get a chuckle with just how wrong it gets my request. When she got Siri, we had a house full of people that evening and we passed my Android around playing with the voice. It did not once get anything right anyone said. 7 different voices asking it stuff and not once was it even close. Siri understood everyone perfectly.

    So the Android voice is useless. Siri is useful. Therein lies the difference.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @08:41AM (#37803162) Homepage Journal

    Google News sucks.

    Sure, it's better than reading a physical newspaper, where you're trapped in a single swamp of laziness, bias and lies. And we won't talk of TV "news", which is like a Bazooka Joe bubblegum wrapper. But before I was wise enough to realize how newspapers sucked (and before they totally sucked, after USA Today got through with them, and Fox Lies got through with newspapers), reading a newspaper could be an hour of thinking substantially about the world. An hour of depth and range.

    But Google News sucks. Spending an hour reading it is like spending an hour speed dating. Yet it does have a lot of sources, some decent algorithms finding multiple sources for a single story, and a wide range of categories (especially if you're interested in PR in technical subjects written for a nontechnical audience). There's just "no there, there".

    Is there an app that's better at presenting news? Browsing, linking among related articles? Formatted like a magazine or something, not just a clickable RSS feed?

    Maybe something that listens to speech and gets content based on it? Maybe some social features? Something? The medium of "news" seems to be dead and rotting, right when the world needs it most. And right when my tea is ready.

    • by Thing 1 (178996)
      You have an interesting perspective. Mine: I get all my news from three sources: NPR in the car; Slashdot and Google News in the evenings and mornings (I do not do non-work, at work). I find that Google News aggregates very well for me. I probably could benefit from adding Science Daily or similar; but Slashdot links out to enough science that I tend to get my fill here. It's also interesting how many articles overlap: most often, I read something here or on Google News, and then hear about it on NPR on
  • As technology feeds people only what they specifically want to hear, a real danger is emerging. Increasingly, people's prejudices and misconceptions are being reinforced and their minds being restricted and tainted by their biases. One need only look to global warming deniers or Fox News commentary to validate this concern.
  • This tech should help us all increase our cognitive bias.

  • The Web-based news aggregator lets users set up persistent 'traps' or filters on specific topics. Over time, the traps learn to include more articles that match users' interests and exclude those that don't.

    Allow: Shiny new electronic products

    Block: Starving orphans

    .

  • by UncHellMatt (790153) on Saturday October 22, 2011 @11:59AM (#37804244)
    When I tested it out, it did much better than my Android, with no "training". Try Android voice with a Boston accent. I tell it to call my favorite bar and it calls a sheep.....

    One of the people who worked on Watson, the computer mind put to the test on Jeopardy, is my former brother in law. When BrotherInLaw -1 began on computer AI there was, at the time, no one more advanced than he to challenge his thesis. The stuff we're seeing now in Siri is very much like what Watson did and projects BIL -1 has been working on for over 10 years, only put to "commercial / consumer" use; something inevitable. I doubt anyone involved with the first missions to the moon were all up in arms saying "What? Velcro? *ththt* That's been out for ages." Remember, to much of the media and your average user, this IS bleeding edge!

    This is what happens with technology. It gets invented, it gets used in science and technology circles for a while then, if it's got commercial appeal, it ends up in the hands of Joe 6GB.To those lambasting Apple, while I assure you is something I enjoy, is sort of shooting fish in a barrel.

    All that said, I use Android for one very simple reason: Apple's Ap Store policy makes me rage. Their puritanical requirements on nudity, "obscenity", etc as well as their tight fisted control over interface is preposterous and reprehensible. When I'd heard they forced a German news agency change their iPhone ap due to a few boobies was when I decided I would never, ever own one. Many of my users have them, they're bought by my employer, I've been offered a new iPhone each year, but for the last two years I've very much enjoyed my Android. The voice command blows, no argument. The screen pivot is comical. But all the aps I have, I enjoy. I can play around with whatever aps I want and not brick the device. To me, that's a fair cop; One programs functionality (Siri) does not out weigh freedom to do as I wish with my devices.
  • by Tom (822)

    I personally consider this one of the most dangerous innovations of the (still young) century.

    We humans already have built-in bias, and plenty of it. One of these little devils is the one that filters out information counter to your opinions. If you use an agent that shows you only stuff that you like, a lot of people will descend even further into their own personal worlds, and move ever further away from reality.

    Every once in a while, you need to be confronted with views other and your own, and stuff outs

    • I personally consider this one of the most dangerous innovations of the (still young) century.

      We humans already have built-in bias, and plenty of it.

      True, but think of what life was like in Ye Ancient Thymes - you were lucky if you got a foreign newspaper that was less than a month old. Unless you were royalty or very well to do, you did not interact with a large circle of people. You never had a chance of finding out there were furries in the world. /b/ was just a brief bout of nausea in some schizophrenics brain after a particularly bad meal.

      While most people won't avail themselves of it, there are more options to 'expand your mind' than ever. Even

      • by Tom (822)

        That's true and a very good point.

        So, I amend mine, and add: "I don't want to return to those dark ages"

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