The iPhone 4S' virtual voice assistant - ask and you shall receive (an answer)...
...than it used to be - to the point where it stops being frustrating and can start becoming entertaining. Smartphones with increasing amounts of processing power and server clout on the back end are also helping to smooth the rough edges of NLP by speedily crunching the necessary data.
Because of increased capabilities and usability, voice-based interfaces have the potential to become disruptive, next-gen user interfaces in their own right - offering a new way to interface with devices and search for data. Sure, speaking to your gadget is not going to be appropriate in every situation - it'll get you kicked out of the local library - but in many instances it's much faster than typing on fiddly keyboards.
Could a Siri-style interface replace the search engine as the first port of call for web users seeking data? Users don't care about the process of searching, they're just after the data, so as Rich Mogull argues in this thought-provoking article, if the path of least resistance to that data is via a virtual assistant, there's no reason for users to visit Google or Bing half as often as they do now.
Siri-style interfaces could see search engines cut out of the loop for a large chunk of queries - changing the modus operandi of much web navigation.
Interesting. Anything else I should think about?
Well, there's privacy. If you own an iPhone 4S just stop and think about how much Siri knows about you - stuff like where you live, where you work, who your significant other is, the name of your boss... "From the details in your contacts, it knows your friends, family, boss and co-workers," says Apple's Siri website.
But not everyone views these smarts as an unequivocal boon. Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, warns there is a risk of Siri knowing too much - gaining too much intimate knowledge - about its user.
"The [Apple] marketing department doesn't even get that there's an issue with privacy that might come up here as you create a proactive agent who knows everything about you, has access to all your apps and knows who your boss is," he warned. "The problem we have is there is no design ethos vis-