The story of Siri from birth to acquisition by Apple

“The Siri app itself isn’t expensive; in fact, it’s free to iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch users. The algorithms that make the app work, however, are the product of years of defense-sponsored research at Menlo Park, CA-based SRI International and other institutions that cost taxpayers at least $150 million,” Wade Roush reports for Xconomy. “After SRI spun out Siri, Inc., to commercialize this work in 2008, Silicon Valley venture capital firms Menlo Ventures and Morgenthaler Ventures poured another $24 million into the technology. And finally, this April, Apple itself acquired the startup for a reported $150 million to $250 million.”

Roush asks, “How could a single mobile application have caused so much money to change hands?”

“The answer, of course, is that the fuss isn’t about the Siri app. It’s about the artificial-intelligence insights behind it: the chain of machine-learning, natural-language processing, and Web search algorithms that swing into action with every Siri query,” Roush reports. “When you can access these algorithms from a mobile device like the iPhone, and prime them with a bit of contextual awareness such as a GPS location reading or an understanding of the user’s preferences, you have a powerful personal tool that Norman Winarsky, SRI’s vice president of ventures, licensing, and strategic programs, likes to describe as a ‘do engine’ rather than a search engine.”

“Right now, Siri can handle a limited range of jobs, such as checking a flight time, sending a tweet or an e-mail reminder, or finding out when a movie is showing—all things that can be achieved by connecting with existing Web services or tapping the structured information in open Web databases,” Roush reports. “But as the technology evolves, it could help to change consumers’ expectations of their mobile devices, gradually weaning them away from the keyword-driven thinking inculcated by traditional search engines and allowing them to interact with their gadgets in more conversational ways. So it’s not hard to understand why Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), which is betting a large part of its future on the iPhone and the iPad, would pay to bring Siri in-house (and, not incidentally, to keep it away from Google).”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Carl H.” for the heads up.]


  1. As Apple ties in the look ups and searches into any app the wants it, this will become very strong inter app system that links tens of thousands of apps resources.

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