Siri – A Promising Feature for eLearning

An event invite from Apple making a humble suggestion “Let’s talk iPhone” led to technology followers around the

An event invite from Apple making a humble suggestion “Let’s talk iPhone” led to technology followers around the world to speculate about the launch of iPhone 5. But out came a surprise called Siri.

The vocal assistant feature, Siri, incorporated in the iPhone 4S, is the new buzz of the town, and the excitement levels are really going high about what is being called the coolest feature of the iPhone so far.

Siri is like your personal assistant who listens to your commands and talks to you. It can share information on anything ranging from the weather to the local Italian cafes, set up your meetings, reply to your mails, read out your text messages for you, and also remind you to pick up flowers for your partner!

Remarkable right? But the technology enthusiasts are filled with mixed emotions

Apple was not the first one to introduce voice technology, and in fact, they have played with it unsuccessfully in the past, while Google introduced this on Android in 2010. Still, Siri has managed to have a better response because of Apple’s foresight about the results voice technology could give if integrated with the operating system. And from, the point of view of the user, Siri lets you talk to it in your natural language. As compared to Google’s technology, where a set of commands were to be remembered for the feature to work, this certainly makes Siri look much better.

However, that does not mean Siri is ready to make wonders. In fact, it is still far from a finished product, and Apple itself has called it a Beta version with promises to make radical improvements by 2012.

For example, Siri finds it difficult to understand different accents. The information that Siri provides right now is very US-specific, and questions about places outside the country gives you clueless responses.

But even then, one can’t deny the brilliance of this feature once it manages to overcome all the shortcomings. I guess we will have to wait and watch if Apple would live up to the expectations it has set or if one of its competitors come up with something better.

But we wonder what possibilities might lay with a feature like Siri in the field of mLearning, especially for the corporate industry.

Definitely, a voice-based search/assistant could revolutionize the education, language learning, and publishing industries. You could search through reference books and manuals looking for specific references or text using an application like Siri. With ease of search, there may be a case for looking up for information when you need it rather than read up in anticipation of needs.

Google went ahead and digitized thousands of books and entire libraries in the past. Perhaps, a great case for them to come up with a voice-based tool like Siri and connect users through the vast library of content they have. They will have to get past copyright problems before that, but that is another issue altogether.

In the corporate eLearning space, perhaps a person looking for a specific training topic within an eLearning course may use their natural language rather than a search field. An employee learning a new software application or process may ‘query’ the right training and will get the right guidance/training when they need it. For example, an insurance claims processer could ask a Siri like device “How to process forms of insurance claimants with pre-existing conditions”. It may give a new meaning to just-in-time training.

How far are we from a ‘Star Trek’ kind of voice-based assistant?  “Majel” is a voice-based assistant said to be launched by Google to compete against Apple’s iPhone 4S-based Siri. For the geeks: Majel is the name of Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry’s wife.  And most importantly, the voice of the computer on the starship Enterprise.

That gives us all some food for thought, isn’t it?

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