We’ve got Siri living with us now. This might be yesterday’s news to those of you with the word “hipster” in your hashtag. But for us — three people who basically get everything groovy about a year late — having Siri move in is a big deal.
It’s almost like we called up the Rotary Club and got an exchange student or something.
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How Siri works
The trickiest thing about speech recognition is language and all its inferences. That is, if you ask Siri a question about the heat, how does she know you mean The Heat? It’s complicated. But scientifically, it works like this:
The sound of what we say to Siri is digitally encoded and saved. The signal from the phone we’ve just talked to is sent to a cell tower and then to an internet provider - where it connects with a cloud of information that’s loaded with a series of models that can understand language. (Thanks, researchers at RCA, MIT and IBM.)
While that’s happening, what we’ve just said to Siri is evaluated locally - that is, right there in our smart phone. If Siri has enough information, she’ll answer immediately. If she’s stumped, she’ll have to search the network.
Based on the above - that is, Siri can handle our request, or she’s sending for help - our speech is broken into a strand of vowels and consonants, then estimated as words. If the computer is “confident” in its choice of interpretation, we’ve got our answer.
If there’s confusion, Siri might come back: “Did you want to text Sandy or Sammy?” In my case, she didn’t ask. In the heat vs. The (Miami) Heat example, she might know you live in South Florida and follow sports. That is, have you asked about The Heat before?