Archive for October 26th, 2011

October 26, 2011



Siri is a personal assistant application for Apple iOS. The application uses natural language processing to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to an expanding set of web services. Siri claims that the software adapts to the user’s individual preferences over time and personalizes results, as well as accomplishing tasks such as making dinner reservations and reserving a cab. Siri was acquired by Apple in 2010, and is now an integrated part of iOS 5. It offers conversational interaction with many applications, including reminders, weather, stocks, messaging, email, calendar, contacts, notes, music, clocks, web browser, Wolfram Alpha, and maps. Currently, Siri only supports English (US, UK, and Australian), German and French, and has limited functionality outside of the US. Siri’s actions and answers rely upon a growing ecosystem of partners, including: OpenTable, CitySearch, Yelp, Yahoo Local, StubHub, RottenTomatoes, New York Times, and Google.

Siri is a spin-off from the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) Artificial Intelligence Center, and is an offshoot of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded CALO project, described as perhaps the largest artificial-intelligence project ever launched. CALO was an attempted to integrate numerous AI technologies into a cognitive assistant; it is an acronym for ‘Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes.’ The name was inspired by the Latin word ‘alonis,’ which means ‘soldier’s servant.’ Siri has many easter eggs. Most are answers to common catchphrases from popular culture. For example, if asked to ‘Open the pod bay door,’ a question David Bowman asks HAL 9000 in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ the program gives the same response as HAL: ‘I’m sorry (username), I can’t do that.’ If the request is repeated, it draws other responses, such as a threat to report the user to the Intelligent Agents Union.

October 26, 2011



Ubik [ew-bik] is a 1969 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. It has been described as ‘a deeply unsettling existential horror story, a nightmare you’ll never be sure you’ve woken up from.’ The novel takes place in the ‘North American Confederation’ of 1992, wherein technology has advanced to the extent of permitting civilians to reach the Moon and psi phenomena are common. The protagonist is Joe Chip, a debt-ridden technician for Glen Runciter’s ‘prudence organization,’ which employs people with the ability to block certain psychic powers (as in the case of an anti-telepath, who can prevent a telepath from reading a client’s mind) to enforce privacy by request. Runciter runs the company with the assistance of his deceased wife Ella, who is kept in a state of ‘half-life,’ a form of cryonic suspension that gives the deceased person limited consciousness and communication ability. In the novel Ubiq, a product whose name is derived from the word ‘ubiquity,’ has the property of preserving people who are in half-life.

Dick’s former wife Tessa remarked that ‘Ubik is a metaphor for God. Ubik is all-powerful and all-knowing, and Ubik is everywhere. The spray can is only a form that Ubik takes to make it easy for people to understand it and use it. It is not the substance inside the can that helps them, but rather their faith in the promise that it will help them.’ She also interpreted the ending by writing, ‘Many readers have puzzled over the ending of Ubik, when Glen Runciter finds a Joe Chip coin in his pocket. [It] is meant to tell you that we can’t be sure of anything in the world that we call ‘reality.’ It is possible that they are all dead and in cold pac or that the half-life world can affect the full-life world. It is also possible that they are all alive and dreaming.’

October 26, 2011

Ubiquitous Computing

smart dust by Becca Charlier-Matthews

Ubiquitous computing [yoo-bik-wi-tuhs] (ubicomp) is a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities. In the course of ordinary activities, someone ‘using’ ubiquitous computing engages many computational devices and systems simultaneously, and may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so. This model is usually considered an advancement from the desktop paradigm. More formally ubiquitous computing is defined as ‘machines that fit the human environment instead of forcing humans to enter theirs.’

Mark Weiser coined the phrase ‘ubiquitous computing’ around 1988, during his tenure as Chief Technologist of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Both alone and with PARC Director and Chief Scientist John Seely Brown, Weiser wrote some of the earliest papers on the subject, largely defining it and sketching out its major concerns. Recognizing that the extension of processing power into everyday scenarios would necessitate understandings of social, cultural and psychological phenomena beyond its proper ambit, Weiser was influenced by many fields outside computer science, including ‘philosophy, phenomenology, anthropology, psychology, post-Modernism, sociology of science and feminist criticism.’ He was explicit about ‘the humanistic origins of the ‘invisible ideal in post-modernist thought,” referencing as well the ironically dystopian Philip K. Dick novel ‘Ubik.’

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