Tuesday, Apple announced Siri for the iPhone 4S. This artificially intelligent virtual assistant can schedule meetings, answer questions, send messages on your behalf, and even read them to you. There’s apparently very little that Siri doesn’t do for you. This makes me wonder if Siri could eventually find its way to OS X. After all, don’t desktop Macs have plenty of processing power and memory to put Siri to good use?
Nearly a decade ago, I went out on a limb and purchased Dragon: NaturallySpeaking for the PC. With it, I could control various aspects of my system, including opening programs on command and controlling my various multimedia software. At that point, I felt as if I was just a year or two away from being able to utilize artificial intelligence to handle my day-to-day scheduling and information needs. Unfortunately, the technology didn’t seem to advance very far from being simple voice recognition software. Let’s face it, artificial intelligence can only take us as far as the programmers can predict our needs.
The demonstration and marketing material behind Siri brought back memories of sitting at my computer years ago, arguing with it over the proper pronunciation of simple commands. What Apple has managed to make out of that popular virtual assistant company it acquired back in 2010 appears remarkable. If it’s actually managed to bridge the gap between functionality and voice recognition, then bravo to Apple. My question now is whether or not Siri will find its way to a desktop platform such as its flagship OS X operating system. After all, wouldn’t everyone like their own version of Tony Stark’s JARVIS?
Here are a couple of solutions that can help you get by while waiting for Siri to officially become available on OS X.
For now, we do have several commercial alternatives available. Dragon Dictate, for example, is an incredibly robust alternative that allows you to program basic commands such as “Post this on Facebook” and “Reply to that email.” Dragon’s products have come a long way since I initially tried them out years ago, but it still isn’t quite there when it comes to communicating back to you. Siri will read your email to you and ask you whether or not you’d like to reschedule conflicting appointments. Dragon simply relays your commands to the system and takes dictation.
Did you know Apple has built-in a power speech recognition software to OS X already? It’s not very good, but it is rather interesting to try. By going to System Preferences and selecting Speech, you’ll be able to activate Speakable Items on OS X. You can talk to your computer by either holding down a toggle key, or saying a keyword prior to every command. This app does have some serious downsides, however. Speech recognition is iffy, and it doesn’t appear to learn your voice the way Dragon and Siri do. Also, commands are preset and specific, requiring somewhat specific input to carry out. Even after calibration, it took me five or six tries to close iCal using Speech. My wife couldn’t get it to do anything at all for her, even after repeated attempts at calibration.
There are many other alternatives out there, including MacSpeech Dictate. Do you know of any good solutions to bring Siri-like functionality to your Mac? Comments are welcome.