YouTube Find: Robin Williams’ side-splitting Siri impression

Comedian and actor Robin Williams impersonates Siri and transforms her into a French man in this hilarious clip from The Ellen Show….
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Apple’s acquisition of speech recognition company speaks to Siri improvements

Worried Siri didn’t get enough love in iOS 7? Apple’s not done with the intelligent assistant just yet, if one of its newer acquisitions is any indication. As first reported by TechCrunch, Cupertino last year picked up U.K.-based Novauris Technologies, a firm that specializes in speech recognition.

Apple confirmed the acquisition to TechCrunch, though as usual it didn’t deign to give any further information about the deal. Novauris itself was essentially a rebuilt version of the research and development team at Dragon Systems U.K., the British subsidiary of Dragon Systems, which created voice recognition and dictation apps like Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Dragon Dictate. Dragon itself is now owned by Nuance—which provides speech recognition for Siri.

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Apple Acquired Speech Recognition Firm Novauris Last Year for Siri Team

Apple purchased automatic speech recognition company Novauris Technologies last year, reports TechCrunch. Novauris’ main product was NovaSystem, a server-based distributed speech recognition system.

According to the company’s website, its technology is able to handle multiple simultaneous voice requests, recognizing complete phrases and analyzing syllable structure for better speech recognition.


NovaSearch doesn’t carry out recognition at the word or sequence-of-words level, but rather identifies complete phrases from start to finish by matching them against a potentially huge inventory of possible utterances. This enables it to assemble information about what has been spoken over utterances of virtually any length and take near-optimal decisions.

While the Novauris website does not mention its acquisition by Apple, TechCrunch notes that a phone call to the U.K. offices was answered with “Apple,” by Novauris’s co-founder, who confirmed that the team now works for Apple. Novauris’s founders are well-known speech researchers and formerly worked at Dragon Systems, the company behind products like Dragon NaturallySpeaking and DragonDictate, now owned by Nuance.

One of the biggest differentiators about Novauris in terms of the competitive landscape, is that they operated in both the embedded and server space, and they also owned the core engine. This of course would make them a valuable asset for Apple, which had tried to acquire Nuance, the technology that powers Apple’s Siri – a partnership that has long been known, but only officially confirmed last year.

Novauris’s technology has been used by companies like Verizon Wireless, Panasonic, Samsung, Alpine, BMW, and more. It has also been used to power several different voice-activated mapping systems, as seen in the demo video below.

The acquisition took place in 2013 and the Novauris team has been working on improving Siri, Apple’s voice-based digital assistant. Apple is rumored to be working on making some significant upgrades to Siri with iOS 8, possibly expanding its ability to interface with third-party apps.

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Microsoft Announces Siri Competitor Cortana, Coming With Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft today announced Windows Phone 8.1, which comes equipped with the company’s digital assistant, Cortana. In development for several years, Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now, the digital assistants from Apple and Google.

Cortana is named for an AI character in the popular Halo video game series and as in the game, the assistant is voiced by actress Jen Taylor. Given a distinctly female personality, she is powered by Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, and is designed to learn about users by asking questions and monitoring user activity, interacting through both text and speech.

According to an extensive piece on Cortana from The Verge, Microsoft designed the feature based on real personal assistants, giving Cortana a “Notebook” to work from. The Notebook can be described as a settings page, allowing users to designate what Cortana can track. In her Notebook, Cortana stores information like personal interests, relationships with people, frequently visited places, appointment dates, quiet hours, and more.

“It’s her view of you, but clearly you can just snatch it from her at any time and say ‘That’s not right, I don’t want you to know this’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with you reading my email,’” explains Ash. “So you have complete control over what she knows and she’s transparent about it.”

Entries in the Notebook are stored in the cloud, and you can share contact information with it, as well as your interests, home and work locations, and more. The notion of Cortana acting as a personal assistant with a notebook— as opposed to a creepy stalker — has been drilled into the team from the beginning, they say.

Cortana is a core function of Windows 8.1, replacing the existing search function. Like Siri she can schedule reminders, but Cortana’s functionality is somewhat more powerful, allowing reminders to be tied to people and locations. For example, Cortana can be asked to give a reminder to discuss a certain topic when calling a contact, with that reminder popping up when a call is placed.

The digital assistant also offers a daily summary of information, similar to what can be found in Apple’s own Notification Center. Cortana lists upcoming appointments, reminders, weather information, and more. She can, with permission, track user email to pull out information like airline reservations.

Like Siri, Cortana has a personality. She has witty responses for certain questions, such as “Who is your father?” to which she replies, “Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.” Displayed as a circle on a phone screen, she’s also able to express 16 different emotions.

While Siri has not been opened up to developers, Microsoft is releasing a third-party SDK. Cortana will integrate with services like Hulu, Twitter, Facebook, allowing people to use voice commands to launch television shows or send a tweet.

Cortana remains in the beta stages, as there are bugs with the software that still need to be worked out. Windows 8.1 will launch in late April or early May, but Cortana will only be available in the United States for the time being.

Microsoft also announced that it is making Windows licenses free for mobile phones and tablets that have screens of less than nine inches, putting it on par with Google’s Android, which is offered to device manufacturers for free.

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iOS 8 – Healthbook, Improvements to Maps, Siri Enhancements, and More

The next iteration of Apple’s iOS software for mobile devices is likely coming this fall. Apple generally pre-announces details during the summer, but a handful of rumors have already given us some information about what to expect.

iOS 8 is said to be heavily focused on health, and may integrate with the iWatch, Apple’s much-rumored smart watch currently in development. The operating system will reportedly include a “Healthbook” app that pulls fitness-related information from both the M7 motion co-processor included in the iPhone 5s and sensors to be included with the iWatch.

Because iOS 7 included a complete visual overhaul of the operating system, iOS 8 is not expected to feature many design changes. Instead, Apple will likely focus on polishing existing features, possibly improving Maps and Siri, along with bolstering the functionality of Touch ID through a new mobile payments system.

Read full roundup for more details…

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Talking to Siri: The Valentine’s Day edition

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