The iPhone 4S’ Talking Assistant Is a Military Veteran

By Spencer Ackerman

Siri, before you became the premiere feature of the new iPhone 4S, where did you come from?

Spencer, I started out as a gleam in the eye of Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research agency, as your Wired colleague Steven Levy tweeted. Darpa thought my artificial-intelligence algorithms for data collection and organization could help the military plan better. Would you like me to find you some references for that?

I would, Siri, thank you.

As it turns out, Siri — the voice-activated data assistant available on Apple’s iPhone upgrade — is a veteran. Nearly 10 years ago, Darpa funded a project known as PAL, for Personalized Assistant that Learns. It was an adaptive AI program for both data retrieval and data synthesis. (So not entirely like search, but not dissimilar, either.) If you told PAL what information you needed, and it observed what you did with that information, it would figure out a more efficient path to acquiring and sorting relevant information the next time around.


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