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Siri and the possibility of artificial intelligence

Wired does a little speculating over on the Cloudline blog about whether or not Apple's redesigned Siri service actually counts as an AI. Technically, no, Siri's not a real artificial intelligence. When you ask "her" something and she comes back with a witty answer, your iPhone doesn't actually "understand" what you said in any meaningful way -- it's just identifying a set of words that you put together, and then outputting some data based on those words. Sometimes that's movie times or nearby store locations, and sometimes that's just a witty phrase that Apple engineers have programmed into the system.

But of course, while programmers have been creating these "chatbots" for years, Siri has an advantage in that it runs on the cloud; Apple is constantly updating Siri's phrases and responses, which means that "her" answers will only get more appropriate over time. And while the system works as is, you have to imagine that Apple is collecting lots of information from it, including both what people are asking of Siri, and how they're asking for it. The more Apple learns about how to deal with that information, the better Siri will get at providing the right answer at the right time.

That will make Siri "smarter" than ever. Until Apple hooks it up to an as-yet-uninvented thinking engine, it still won't "understand" your queries in the same way that a real human would -- or even in the way that a hyper-parallel quiz show competitor does. But for a lot of people, that doesn't much matter. As long as Siri responds correctly and helpfully, that's as good as many people need in terms of the payoff from artificial intelligence.

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