Apple has purchased Siri and its development team for an undisclosed sum. The Siri Assistant is a free voice-activated virtual assistant iPhone app that uses location information and relationship knowledge while integrating with many web services— such as StubHub and OpenTable, to make recommendations for consumers. It employs Nuance’s speech recognition technology applying search algorithms to translate verbal search queries and commands into real web searches. It allows consumers to seek out live event schedules, movie showtimes, nearby restaurants and gas stations and other local businesses, and even book a taxi.

Siri is run by:

  • Dag Kittlaus (Co-founder and CEO) who was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at SRI, and previously with Telenor Mobile and Motorola’s Interactive Media Group.
  • Adam Cheyer (Co-founder and VP of Engineering) who was Program Director in SRI’s Artificial Intelligence Center and Chief Architect of the CALO/PAL project, and previously VP of Engineering at Dejima and Verticalnet, and a founding member of Change.org and Genetic Finance, LLC.
  • Tom Gruber (Co-founder, CTO, and VP Design) who was a founder and CTO of RealTravel, Intraspect, founder and Chief Scientist at Consider Solutions, a pioneering researcher at Stanford in the use of the Web for knowledge sharing and semantic integration, and served as an advisor to SocialText, LinkedIn, and Powerset.

The Siri team came out of SRI’S $150 million CALO Project on artificial intelligence. Much of the CALO Project was released to open source through openiris.org, although components associated to commercial products never made it to the open source community.  CALO also produced many other unique capabilities. One of which was the ability to read emails and identify meeting requests with named participants. Then via its calendar negotiation system it could negotiate a satisfactory meeting time based on participant preferences, and notify participants.

My first interaction with Siri

Siri previously raised $24 million from Menlo Ventures, Morgenthaler Ventures, Horizons Ventures, and individual investor Li Ka-Shing, a Chinese billionaire who’s also backed Facebook. Siri was in development for two years, and debuted in February, where it took off in the App Store. I had a chance to see Siri in action and meet Tom Gruber on the day it debuted, while at retreat in early February in Marin County. Siri clearly solved the problem of doing individual searches for places by typing within the browser.

Siri makes real-time web calls to collect information, and eliminates the need to make individual searches, queries, and logins within the phone browser. Apple clearly saw Siri as a critical solution. I wonder how Apple it will vet and select providers that it will ultimately recommend going forward. Being on “the list” will be incredibly big for service providers, as it will expose them to a large iPhone audience. Apple’s move to snatch up Siri was clearly a step to rival Google’s dominance in mobile search. Siri also seems like a natural fit as a core app out of the box for both the iPhone and iPad platforms. I’ve been running it on my iPad in iPhone emulation mode, yearning for an iPad version of it.

Congratulations to Tom and the Siri team for two years of hard work and a great exit into the hands of Apple!

– Randy Giusto

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