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Google Working On Siri Competitor Majel 360

Posted by timothy
from the what-are-you-doing-gene dept.
judgecorp writes "Google is working on a competitor to Apple's Siri voice input system. It's an extension to its existing Voice Actions offering with a name that should ring bells. Majel is named after Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who was the voice of most of the Star Trek on-board computers, as well as playing Nurse Christine Chapel in the first series and being Gene Roddenberry's wife."
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Google Working On Siri Competitor Majel

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  • by bonch (38532) * on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:48PM (#38437054)

    This signifies so many of the core differences between Google and Apple. Apple intentionally implemented "attitude" in the character of Siri to make it more endearing and friendly, while Google dismisses that idea and tries to make theirs into an emotion-less Star Trek computer, even naming it after the actress who voiced it. Many of the insider remarks on this project are talking about how it's intended to be like the Star Trek computer, even addressing it as "computer." Often times, I think Google is way too engineering-driven and quite simply doesn't get humans.

    Voice recognition is driven by feedback, and Apple has a huge headstart with Siri because it's already out now in beta form, and so Apple has access to real-world usage data. By the time Majel comes out, Siri will be even more advanced and will have been shaped by its users. It will be interesting to see how Google competes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pj2541 (600359)
      I'd prefer "Prikazyvat" to "Computer.
    • by WPIDalamar (122110) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:53PM (#38437132) Homepage

      Google has less real world usage?

      Matching a search with useful information is kind of what google does best. For voice recognition, they've been doing voice-search on Android for a long time, plus their now defunct goog-411 and that's a lot of voice recognition experience.

      Siri/Majel is really just a UI layer on top of those two things.

      Google may be behind in the integration, but they're probably way ahead in those two things.

      • by mark_elf (2009518) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:11PM (#38437406)

        Indeed, FTFA -

        "Google, it is widely held, is Siri’s best challenger. The company has offered Google Voice Search on the iPhone and its Android devices since 2008, and that application has been expanded to cover 29 languages, supporting accents in 37 countries, including the Middle East."

        Ouch.

        • by Xest (935314)

          Yes, this is why I never got why people are so amazed with Siri, it's far from a fascinating new peice of software magically capable of understanding people in a way computers never have before.

          To demonstrate this is quite simple, we know that voice recognition is pretty advanced right now, it's quite common for computers to be able to convert voice into text. So now try this, type a question directly into Google, and see if it responds as well as Siri does? It did? well, who'd have thought it.

          All Siri is i

      • Google has less real world usage?

        The implication of your question is that Google already has something like Siri out, and has for some time.

        So then why is Google working on a Siri competitor?

        Huh.

        And of course in Siri stories many Android users just aid to get Vlingo. How is that helping Google again?

      • Matching a search with useful information is kind of what google does best. For voice recognition, they've been doing voice-search on Android for a long time, plus their now defunct goog-411 and that's a lot of voice recognition experience.

        Siri/Majel is really just a UI layer on top of those two things.

        I have to disagree.

        Certainly it's the

        • goal

        of Google to decipher intent from search queries and deliver matching content, but I've yet to see any examples where what Google currently does really goes beyond basic keyword matching. Do you have any examples where Google is interpreting what you mean as opposed to what you actually typed (dumb keyword matching)?

        The real value of Siri is in it's AI - it's ability to determine what you want from what you say (including prior context), and then of course act upon

    • by TehDuffman (987864) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:53PM (#38437138) Journal
      I like this approach personally. I think it is weird to treat the phone as a person. I would rather talk to my phone like it is a phone than a woman. (especially if i have to repeat myself :) )
      • by mr1911 (1942298)

        I would rather talk to my phone like it is a phone than a woman. (especially if i have to repeat myself :) )

        Don't worry. She'll walk away quickly.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      We'll have to wait to see how it works, but I'm not sure even non-geeks always find "realistic" computers more natural to interact with than computer-ish computers. People are perfectly capable of anthropomorphizing non-human entities if they act in some consistent way, even if they don't exactly mimic human behavior. In fact it's often better to act in a clearly non-human way than to hit the uncanny-valley of sort-of-human.

      • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:38PM (#38437886)
        Agreed.

        To amplify this 'uncanny-valley' notion. The problem with the anthropomorphizing ('attitude') approach is that it lulls the user into thinking they are dealing with a very sophisticated (sentient) system. This fiction quickly disappears once the user runs requests that the AI quite obviously doesn't understand. At that point, the quirky personality becomes annoying (think Clippy), and the fact that it pretends to be as smart as a human, without actually being as smart as a human, makes the interface seem broken and comically insufficient.

        The opposite approach, also seen in robotics and many other areas of AI (e.g. search), is to not pretend that the system is like a person. Instead, make it obvious that it is a machine, with a set input/output behavior. Users can then quickly learn how to best use this machine to accomplish tasks. If the shortcomings of the system are evident, users will not be surprised by them and will instead build these into their mental model of how the system works.

        As a case study, consider the similar criticisms that have been made about Wolfram-Alpha (e.g. here [blogspot.com]): essentially, W|A is a highly sophisticated set of computation and relation engines. However it's all wrapped up inside an overly simplistic UI (a single text-entry box, without any obvious way to refine what you mean). This leads to people getting all kinds of unintended results, despite the fact that the system actually can perform the computation/analysis/lookup the user wants. It's just that there is no obvious way to tell it what lookup you meant. The overly-simplified UI implies to the user that the system will just 'figure out what you mean', but the fact is it fails to do that very frequently; the user becomes frustrated because they then have to mentally reverse-engineer W|A's parsing logic, trying to build a query that returns the kind of results they want.

        In short, it's better to design a UI that is an honest reflection of the sophistication/power of the underlying technology. To do otherwise creates a bad user experience, because user expectations are not meant by available functionality.
    • " I think Google is way too engineering-driven"

      Which is exactly why, as an engineer, I always prefer Google products. This announcement has a cool factor that makes me interested even though it is just another voice recognition gimmick like Siri.

      • by mark_elf (2009518)
        I have an iPhone, and my initial reaction to this was a jealousy I have not experienced before. It's a cool idea. I assume they cleared this with her estate, Paramount, etc., right? Anyway, it's not like you would just "be talking to an emotionless computer". That's a very shallow take on it.
      • by Pope (17780)

        Sirius Cybernetics has an open job position for you...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:57PM (#38437208)

      Clippy had attitude too, and was endearing and friendly...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bonch (38532) *

        Clippy was annoying because it popped up intrusively and was almost always unhelpful. This is voice recognition that responds only when you give it a query, and it really does do what it's supposed to most of the time. Not the same thing.

    • by Jeng (926980) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:04PM (#38437308)

      Many of the insider remarks on this project are talking about how it's intended to be like the Star Trek computer, even addressing it as "computer." Often times, I think Google is way too engineering-driven and quite simply doesn't get humans.

      I don't need a hammer that gets me. I need one I can accurately use. Natural language is very imprecise, a set list of commands makes things more precise.

      • by samkass (174571)

        I don't need a hammer that gets me. I need one I can accurately use. Natural language is very imprecise, a set list of commands makes things more precise.

        I find this comment fascinating, and probably helps differentiate geek tools from mass-market tools. Most people prefer accuracy, but I think a lot of geeks really would prefer precision.

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:50PM (#38438046) Homepage

          I don't need a hammer that gets me. I need one I can accurately use. Natural language is very imprecise, a set list of commands makes things more precise.

          I find this comment fascinating, and probably helps differentiate geek tools from mass-market tools. Most people prefer accuracy, but I think a lot of geeks really would prefer precision.

          But it accurately represents at least a significant part of the Slashdot demographic. I find Siri to be almost completely useless because it isn't designed for precision - it seems to default to a socially acceptable / funny / warm answer. It's often like talking to an Alzheimer's patient - you get a human response, it's just not associated logically with your question. I would much prefer it if Siri could be placed in a 'computer' mode that gave you a more structured syntax.

          Other folks, not so much....

    • by gmuslera (3436) *
      Emotionless? Counselor's mother?

      Anyway, probably is the engineering approach, first make it a bit safer from trivial exploits and potentially costly mistakes vs making it look smart and friendly when is not. Even looked natural for us that in the Enterprise they talked to it with a prefix to distinguish from the people around.

      Anyway, the worrysome headstart is in the patents arena, even if talking to a computer is in science fiction and popular culture since beginning of last century, it will be a minefield
    • by Dingb (2498420)
      Clearly, you aren't aware that the computer on Star Trek also hosts a holographic representation of Professor Moriarty within it's processing cores. Who I am sure will be happy to direct me to the nearest abortion clinic of my choosing.
    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      I'm surprised how well and by how much apple beat google to the market on this. I always thought google was the bigger more technologically advanced of the two, perhaps there is more revenue in it for Apple?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Apple intentionally implemented "attitude" in the character of Siri to make it more endearing and friendly

      I don't WANT my phone or computer to be endearing or friendly, I want the damned thing to be OBEDIENT. Siri would probably annoy me.

      Apple wants to make their tools seem like expensive toys, Google just makes tools. Personally, I like the "tools as tools" rather than "tools as friends". I mean, what kind of loser has so few friends that his computer needs to be endearing and friendly?

      That's one reason (o

    • by morgauxo (974071)
      Is it humans that Apple gets or just marketing?

      Siri has been such great publicity for Apple. I guess now Google can't afford not to copy it. As a long time Android user I think it looks like a neat toy.

      The iPhone users I have talked to though mostly like Siri for it's voice recognition capabilities. In particular hands free texting and calling. That's been around for years on other platforms, including Android though. The users I have talked to indicated that having it talk back was actually more of
    • This signifies so many of the core differences between Google and Apple

      Google has a large team of researchers actually developing speech recognition systems, and the contribute to the science and technology of speech recognition. They have been at this for a decade, have vast amounts of data, and are doing extremely well.

      Siri was spin-out from a tax-payer funded DARPA research project, cobbled together with some third party libraries. Apple snapped up the technology at bargain basement prices. Apple hasn'

  • by bobstreo (1320787) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:49PM (#38437072)

    Working.

  • Program complete, enter when ready!

  • by forkfail (228161) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:57PM (#38437210)

    ... that the image that comes to mind involves Majel and Siri and a pit filled with mud?

    • Yes, that is wrong! I don't know how you can live with yourself!
      Now if if was a kids wading pool full of chocolate pudding.....
  • Applaud the respect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AikonMGB (1013995) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @01:59PM (#38437244) Homepage

    I absolutely love the use of "Majel" here; Star Trek has influenced so much of our lives and of our tech, and now that are finally starting to get into responsive voice-operated systems, it shows a great deal of respect to bring it back to the original visionaries.

    Aikon-

  • Left one out (Score:5, Informative)

    by XanC (644172) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:00PM (#38437268)

    She was also the first officer of the Enterprise in the first pilot episode.

  • by zill (1690130) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:01PM (#38437280)
    Pssssst, Google. Use Morgan Freeman's voice. I promise you'll make trillions.
  • No mention of Lwaxana Troi?
  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@@@comcast...net> on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:06PM (#38437336)

    The very name takes the wind out of the fan boys that will want to proclaim 'apple invented this, it was their idea'. Clever

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The three basic opinions on this:

      The tech world: "Well, fair is fair. Though this was done on phones and such before, Google really had one of the first major working voice-to-text implementations for limited commands AND search, then Apple improved the interface with Siri, and now Google is improving that to make it more engineering-based. No real problem."

      The plebs outside the tech world: "WTF?!?!??!? Apple invented voice controls! They had all their advertisements about Siri on the iPhone and everythi

    • by harl (84412)
      Funny I always use facts.

      Apple pulled a Microsoft.

      Siri was available on all platforms until Apple bought it and shut down it down on competing platforms.
  • The Star Trek universe has a strong Luddite streak when it comes to computers:

    Original series - the episodes "Court Martial" and "The Ultimate Computer" (M5) spring to mind.

    Next generation - the new Enterprise's computer was clearly not as smart as the old one. Despite his obvious success, Data-like androids never went into mass production (just run Data through a replicator).

    • IIRC, replicators have limited success in replicating particularly advanced materials (even though those same materials can be transported and replicators were based upon transporter technology). Besides some little helper bots that accidentally gained sentience, nobody in the Star Trek Universe besides Soong has had the capabilities of creating an android like Data, including Data (although he came quite close, he just couldn't build one that would stay functional). Also, between Lore's bad behavior and
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:11PM (#38437400) Homepage

    Majel is named after Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who was the voice of most of the Star Trek on-board computers, as well as playing Nurse Christine Chapel in the first series and being Gene Roddenberry's wife.

    OK, anybody who didn't immediately think of Majel Barrett without being told who she was, please leave -- you're obviously in the wrong place. ;-)

    I keed, I keed. Well, mostly.

  • Works wonderfully in Alpha test, and now in Beta it is even better. It mainly pulls data from Wiki, but will also voice dial, check appoinments, Find movie times, voice actived texting! woo hoo! and much more.. and the things it doesnt know will come back with a funny answer and not the i'll google that for you response that Siri does.
  • by nickdc (1444247) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @02:35PM (#38437838)
    Does anyone else have the urge to place siri and majel side by side in hopes of reproducing a cleverbot conversation?
  • Goog411

    it worked great.

  • No matter how well it works, unless you are inspector gadget, you will still look like a dork talking TO your phone - "go go gadget android!"
  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @03:39PM (#38438750)

    Great Idea Google. I knew exactly who this was named after and why the second i saw the name. Its perfect.

    Majel was amazing. TNG for life..

  • by msobkow (48369) on Tuesday December 20, 2011 @06:55PM (#38441596) Homepage Journal

    It's really a shame that Majel herself isn't still alive to provide the core voice work for the product. People would have swarmed in droves to have the actual Star Trek computer voice at their beck and call.

    Then again, who knows how much audio tape and footage there is of her locked away? Maybe there's enough of a phoneme and phrase collection out there that they could resurrect her voice. Couldn't be any more difficult than extracting the phonemes from someone else's voice, provided there's enough data to do the job.

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