SIRI: A DARPA Funded Ghost in the iPhone

With the recent release of Apples iPhone 4S, there has been many new features included in IOS 5.. One of the most interesting features of the phone is called SIRI. (What ever that means) Could SIRI have anything to do with the Stanford Research Institute (SRI)? Now many people might be thinking; “Well I think this new feature is cool” But is it really a innocent program which is claimed to be your ‘personal assistant’. We are in the new age of artificial intelligence and since iPhone is the largest choice of cellphones; it makes perfect sense to roll out this new type of software to test and gather information from people all over the world. Now this SIRI could be a spinoff of DARPA’s PAL (Perceptive Assistant that Learns) program that was also developed by Stanford Research Institute but is called CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes). Here is some background information leading up-to the creation of SIRI:

General Magic is a company that was divested from Apple back in 1990. It was made up of former Apple employees and Apple had a 10% stake in the company. Apple has always been ahead of themselves, even in he 1980s.. But according to Apple we are entering the post-PC-era which means our machines will become way more advanced than anyone could imagine. Well here is what Apple was thinking of in 1987. Apple’s Knowledge Navigator Concept:

Apple knew this ‘invention’ wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, so they gave it to the General Magic company to work on.. A couple years later, in 1990’s General Magic came out something like the SIRI.. I was called Portico and you had to call into the service rather than running it on your phone.. Now here is a promo video for this Portico product.. (Circa 1997):

If you’re interested in SIRI, definitely read Wired’s, Bill and Andy’s Excellent Adventure II from 1994 Apple has been thinking about this type of controlling feature for awhile now.. The only problem was that people weren’t ready for it; well until now! Now here is the SIRI demo for the new iPhone 4S:

SRI’s CALO Information

SRI International is leading the development of new software that could revolutionize how computers support decision-makers.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), under its Perceptive Assistant that Learns (PAL) program, has awarded SRI the first two phases of a five-year contract to develop an enduring personalized cognitive assistant. DARPA expects the PAL program to generate innovative ideas that result in new science, new and fundamental approaches to current problems, and new algorithms and tools, and to yield new technology of significant value to the military.

SRI has dubbed its new project CALO, for Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes. The name was inspired by the Latin word “calonis”, which means “soldier’s servant”. The goal of the project is to create cognitive software systems, that is, systems that can reason, learn from experience, be told what to do, explain what they are doing, reflect on their experience, and respond robustly to surprise.

The software, which will learn by interacting with and being advised by its users, will handle a broad range of interrelated decision-making tasks that have in the past been resistant to automation. It will have the capability to engage in and lead routine tasks, and to assist when the unexpected happens. To focus the research on real problems and to ensure the software meets requirements such as privacy, security, and trust, the CALO project researchers will themselves use the technology during its development.

SRI is leading the multidisciplinary CALO project team, and, beyond participating in the research program, is also responsible for overall project direction and management and the development of prototypes.


Shadowy government project spins off Siri to help direct your affairs

Conspiracy theorists will love this one: A computerized assistant that can help you manage your day to day life, built atop an artificial intelligence platform developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the United States’ internal military research group. Siri, the startup building the assistant, is today announcing $8.5 million in venture funding.

As befits its spookish origins, Siri isn’t saying a great deal yet about what it will do. Co-founder Dag Kittlaus, who licensed technology from DARPA’s CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes) project, calls it “a smarter, more personal interaction paradigm for the Internet.” Unfortunately, that’s about as specific as calling Google “a thing that finds stuff.” Those who want a sneak peek at Siri will instead have to look to CALO.

So here’s what we know about CALO: It’s a concerted effort to take the first real step toward artificial intelligence, with five years of work and $200 million in funding to date. Rather than being immediately useful, it learns about the user over time, much like a real personal assistant would. As it learns, it becomes capable of making logical associations and initiating its own actions.

Let’s use travel as an example, since it’s often used to talk about semantic web services. Say you want to book a vacation. A “cognitive assistant”, as these programs are sometimes called, should eventually be able to help you plan and book your travel. Say it has learned that based on your income, you can’t afford five star hotels, but based on your habits, you won’t go to one or two star hotels, so when you look for accomodations, it brings up a list of three and four star hotels.

Other companies hope to have similar capabilities. However, CALO goes a step further, in that it’s “proactive”. So to follow the example, your assistant might not even wait for you to ask about hotels on Maui — it might suggest vacations on its own, a couple months before your yearly vacation time came up.

Obviously, DARPA didn’t start the project to help officers plan out their vacation retreats. Internally, it’s meant to help with tasks like running a platoon of soldiers, and actual development has been centered around enterprise usage, according to Siri is likely just the first of several startups we’ll see emerge to try to reach a broader market with the technology.

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The iPhone 4S’ Talking Assistant Is a Military Veteran

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.

The project started out with a California company called SRI International. With a five-year, multimillion dollar grant from Darpa under the PAL program, SRI developed a system called CALO, for Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes. (Check out this handy chart of its architecture.) ”The goal of the project is to create cognitive software systems,” it explained, “that is, systems that can reason, learn from experience, be told what to do, explain what they are doing, reflect on their experience, and respond robustly to surprise.”

Put more simply, “The idea is to develop a system that will adapt to the user, instead of the other way around,” a PAL project partner told a fresh-faced Noah Shachtman way back in 2003. TechnophobicNew York Times columnist William Safire sputtered that Darpa was ushering in “a world light-years beyond the Matrix,” with dire implications for the person “that PAL’s user is looking at, listening to, sniffing or conspiring with to blow up the world?”

As Darpa tried to show in the corny instructional video above, PAL didn’t work the way Safire thought it did. In the video’s hypothetical scenario, the military is in the middle of a humanitarian aid mission when a terrorist group fires a rocket-propelled grenade at a cargo plane. PAL — then quaintly hosted on a desktop — anticipates an officer’s question. “These-are-the-additional-security-forces-in-theater-that-are-available,” a Vocodered voice from a computer tells the officer, like it was the Enterprise answering Captain Kirk, as icons pop up on a screen to illustrate the point.

An Air Force major, new to the fictional task force, gets up to speed on the aid mission by asking PAL for displays of the command plan. “These are my priorities,” he tells it, tapping the screen with his finger. (Darpa seems to have anticipated that by the time PAL was ready, everyone would have a touchscreen desktop monitor.) And just like that, the major has planned his day, telling PAL what briefings he plans to attend. “Here-are-the-materials-you-need-for-the-meeting,” PAL replied, as it collated them into a folder.

Perhaps PAL was geared to be more like a PDA than the Enterprise’s computer. (No bureaucratic headquarters task is too complicated for a super-algorithm!) Then again, once PAL is networked with other officers’ PALs, it becomes easy to spot the erratic behavior of a fictional ship, alerting the task force to a potential terrorist threat.

By 2008 — with the PAL project not bearing fruit — SRI didn’t want to miss out on the commercial opportunities of iPhone apps. So it spun off a company called Siri Incorporated to develop what became the first iteration of the Siri app — a so-called “do engine” that weaved user preferences with existing web functions to, say, let you know what time the nearest Iron Man showing started. (It wasn’t voice-activated.) Apple thought the Siri’s tech showed promise, so it paid a rumored $150 to $200 million for the company. On Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook finally explained what Apple had in mind.

In other words, you probably won’t be using Siri to track any terrorists on your iPhone 4S. Chances are you’ll ask Siri to find you a nearby restaurant with an available table; a phone number from the depths of your email inbox; or tell you how long it’ll take you to get from the office to the airport in traffic. In fact, according to an SRI veteran, Siri is way more powerful than what Darpa and SRI had in mind. “It’s not just connected to various Web services, but also to your calendar and contacts and music and everything on the phone,” Norman Minarsky of SRI told Technology Review on Tuesday.

But what if you’re in the military, and you want to take Siri back to its PAL roots? Best of luck to you. Obviously, there’s no PAL in usage. Five years after the iPhone launched the smartphone revolution, the military is barely catching up. Only the Army is seriously considering requiring its soldiers to carry smartphones loaded with militarily relevant apps. (The Marines, to a lesser degree, are starting to as well.)

But it still doesn’t know how to secure the classified data that the phones will need to host. The Army is also schizophrenic about scotching its now-obsolete plans for networking soldiers together through wearable computers or incorporating smartphones into them. And budget crunches threaten to smother the Army’s entire smartphone experiment in the cradle.


People are going to pay a lot of money to have their asses tracked to within a couple of meters by a device running a civilian version of DARPA’s soldier’s servant software. The most disturbing aspect of this is not what the iPhone 4s is going to be phoning home to Apple (which is unknown), or the invasion into our lives, but the fact that, people would think that you were nuts for having these reservations at all. I mean, what could possibly be wrong with re-purposed DoD AI software running on a mass market consumer device that persistently reveals the user’s location to the state and everything else about them? I’m sure SIRI is recording your conversations and much more! Beware of the hidden Big Brother or shall I say Big Sister?