A new Apple patent (number 20120016678) at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office shows that the company has big plans for Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant that helps you get things done just by asking. Siri was introduces last October along with the iPhone 4S.
The new Apple patent is for an "intelligent automated assistant" system that engages with the user in an integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog, and invokes external services when appropriate to obtain information or perform various actions. The system can be implemented using any of a number of different platforms, such as the web, email, smartphone, and the like, or any combination thereof.
In one embodiment, the system is based on sets of interrelated domains and tasks, and employs additional functionally powered by external services with which the system can interact. The inventors are Thomas Robert Gruber, Adam John Cheyer, Dag Kitilaus, Didier Rene Guzzoni, Christopher Dean Brigham, Richard Donald Giuil, Marcello Bastea-forte and Harry Joseph Saddler.
Here's Apple's background and summary of the invention: "Today's electronic devices are able to access a large, growing, and diverse quantity of functions, services, and information, both via the Internet and from other sources. Functionality for such devices is increasing rapidly, as many consumer devices, smartphones, tablet computers, and the like, are able to run software applications to perform various tasks and provide different types of information.
"Often, each application, function, website, or feature has its own user interface and its own operational paradigms, many of which can be burdensome to learn or overwhelming for users. In addition, many users may have difficulty even discovering what functionality and/or information is available on their electronic devices or on various websites; thus, such users may become frustrated or overwhelmed, or may simply be unable to use the resources available to them in an effective manner.
"In particular, novice users, or individuals who are impaired or disabled in some manner, and/or are elderly, busy, distracted, and/or operating a vehicle may have difficulty interfacing with their electronic devices effectively, and/or engaging online services effectively. Such users are particularly likely to have difficulty with the large number of diverse and inconsistent functions, applications, and websites that may be available for their use.
"Accordingly, existing systems are often difficult to use and to navigate, and often present users with inconsistent and overwhelming interfaces that often prevent the users from making effective use of the technology.
"According to various embodiments of the present invention, an intelligent automated assistant is implemented on an electronic device, to facilitate user interaction with a device, and to help the user more effectively engage with local and/or remote services. In various embodiments, the intelligent automated assistant engages with the user in an integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog, and invokes external services when appropriate to obtain information or perform various actions.
"According to various embodiments of the present invention, the intelligent automated assistant integrates a variety of capabilities provided by different software components (e.g., for supporting natural language recognition and dialog, multimodal input, personal information management, task flow management, orchestrating distributed services, and the like). Furthermore, to offer intelligent interfaces and useful functionality to users, the intelligent automated assistant of the present invention may, in at least some embodiments, coordinate these components and services.
"The conversation interface, and the ability to obtain information and perform follow-on task, are implemented, in at least some embodiments, by coordinating various components such as language components, dialog components, task management components, information management components and/or a plurality of external services.
"According to various embodiments of the present invention, intelligent automated assistant systems may be configured, designed, and/or operable to provide various different types of operations, functionalities, and/or features, and/or to combine a plurality of features, operations, and applications of an electronic device on which it is installed. In some embodiments, the intelligent automated assistant systems of the present invention can perform any or all of: actively eliciting input from a user, interpreting user intent, disambiguating among competing interpretations, requesting and receiving clarifying information as needed, and performing (or initiating) actions based on the discerned intent.
"Actions can be performed, for example, by activating and/or interfacing with any applications or services that may be available on an electronic device, as well as services that are available over an electronic network such as the Internet. In various embodiments, such activation of external services can be performed via APIs or by any other suitable mechanism. In this manner, the intelligent automated assistant systems of various embodiments of the present invention can unify, simplify, and improve the user's experience with respect to many different applications and functions of an electronic device, and with respect to services that may be available over the Internet.
"The user can thereby be relieved of the burden of learning what functionality may be available on the device and on web-connected services, how to interface with such services to get what he or she wants, and how to interpret the output received from such services; rather, the assistant of the present invention can act as a go-between between the user and such diverse services.
"In addition, in various embodiments, the assistant of the present invention provides a conversational interface that the user may find more intuitive and less burdensome than conventional graphical user interfaces. The user can engage in a form of conversational dialog with the assistant using any of a number of available input and output mechanisms, such as for example speech, graphical user interfaces (buttons and links), text entry, and the like.
"The system can be implemented using any of a number of different platforms, such as device APIs, the web, email, and the like, or any combination thereof. Requests for additional input can be presented to the user in the context of such a conversation. Short and long term memory can be engaged so that user input can be interpreted in proper context given previous events and communications within a given session, as well as historical and profile information about the user.
"In addition, in various embodiments, context information derived from user interaction with a feature, operation, or application on a device can be used to streamline the operation of other features, operations, or applications on the device or on other devices. For example, the intelligent automated assistant can use the context of a phone call (such as the person called) to streamline the initiation of a text message (for example to determine that the text message should be sent to the same person, without the user having to explicitly specify the recipient of the text message).
"The intelligent automated assistant of the present invention can thereby interpret instructions such as 'send him a text message,' wherein the 'him' is interpreted according to context information derived from a current phone call, and/or from any feature, operation, or application on the device. In various embodiments, the intelligent automated assistant takes into account various types of available context data to determine which address book contact to use, which contact data to use, which telephone number to use for the contact, and the like, so that the user need not re-specify such information manually.
"In various embodiments, the assistant can also take into account external events and respond accordingly, for example, to initiate action, initiate communication with the user, provide alerts, and/or modify previously initiated action in view of the external events. If input is required from the user, a conversational interface can again be used.
"In one embodiment, the system is based on sets of interrelated domains and tasks, and employs additional functionally powered by external services with which the system can interact. In various embodiments, these external services include web-enabled services, as well as functionality related to the hardware device itself. For example, in an embodiment where the intelligent automated assistant is implemented on a smartphone, personal digital assistant, tablet computer, or other device, the assistant can control many operations and functions of the device, such as to dial a telephone number, send a text message, set reminders, add events to a calendar, and the like.
"In various embodiments, the system of the present invention can be implemented to provide assistance in any of a number of different domains. Examples include:
"Local Services (including location- and time-specific services such as restaurants, movies, automated teller machines (ATMs), events, and places to meet);
"Personal and Social Memory Services (including action items, notes, calendar events, shared links, and the like);
"E-commerce (including online purchases of items such as books, DVDs, music, and the like);
"Travel Services (including flights, hotels, attractions, and the like).
"One skilled in the art will recognize that the above list of domains is merely exemplary. In addition, the system of the present invention can be implemented in any combination of domains.
"In various embodiments, the intelligent automated assistant systems disclosed herein may be configured or designed to include functionality for automating the application of data and services available over the Internet to discover, find, choose among, purchase, reserve, or order products and services. In addition to automating the process of using these data and services, at least one intelligent automated assistant system embodiment disclosed herein may also enable the combined use of several sources of data and services at once.
"For example, it may combine information about products from several review sites, check prices and availability from multiple distributors, and check their locations and time constraints, and help a user find a personalized solution to their problem. Additionally, at least one intelligent automated assistant system embodiment disclosed herein may be configured or designed to include functionality for automating the use of data and services available over the Internet to discover, investigate, select among, reserve, and otherwise learn about things to do (including but not limited to movies, events, performances, exhibits, shows and attractions); places to go (including but not limited to travel destinations, hotels and other places to stay, landmarks and other sites of interest, etc.); places to eat or drink (such as restaurants and bars), times and places to meet others, and any other source of entertainment or social interaction which may be found on the Internet.
"Additionally, at least one intelligent automated assistant system embodiment disclosed herein may be configured or designed to include functionality for enabling the operation of applications and services via natural language dialog that may be otherwise provided by dedicated applications with graphical user interfaces including search (including location-based search); navigation (maps and directions); database lookup (such as finding businesses or people by name or other properties); getting weather conditions and forecasts, checking the price of market items or status of financial transactions; monitoring traffic or the status of flights; accessing and updating calendars and schedules; managing reminders, alerts, tasks and projects; communicating over email or other messaging platforms; and operating devices locally or remotely (e.g., dialing telephones, controlling light and temperature, controlling home security devices, playing music or video, etc.).
"Further, at least one intelligent automated assistant system embodiment disclosed herein may be configured or designed to include functionality for identifying, generating, and/or providing personalized recommendations for activities, products, services, source of entertainment, time management, or any other kind of recommendation service that benefits from an interactive dialog in natural language and automated access to data and services.
"In various embodiments, the intelligent automated assistant of the present invention can control many features and operations of an electronic device. For example, the intelligent automated assistant can call services that interface with functionality and applications on a device via APIs or by other means, to perform functions and operations that might otherwise be initiated using a conventional user interface on the device.
"Such functions and operations may include, for example, setting an alarm, making a telephone call, sending a text message or email message, adding a calendar event, and the like. Such functions operations may be performed as add-on functions in the context of a conversational dialog between a user and the assistant. Such functions and operations can be specified by the user in the context of such a dialog, or they may be automatically performed based on the context of the dialog. One skilled in the art will recognize that the assistant can thereby be used as a control mechanism for initiating and controlling various operations on the electronic device, which may be used as an alternative to conventional mechanisms such as buttons or graphical user interfaces."