SRI’s Norman Winarsky Says Siri Has Been Stretched ‘Beyond Its Initial Capabilities’ (But It’s Not Apple’s Fault)

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Norman Winarsky, vice president of SRI Ventures, offered his thoughts today on how Apple has handled the acquisition and subsequent relaunch of Siri, an integrated service in iOS. He was diplomatic about some of the criticism Siri has received, while also acknowledging the service has some real shortcomings.

For those of you not familiar with Siri’s history, the startup actually spun out of SRI, it was based on technology developed there, and Winarsky was on Siri’s board of directors. So when Winarsky answered questions from reporters this afternoon at Bloomberg’s San Francisco office, it was inevitable that someone would ask about what Apple has done with the technology.

Earlier in the conversation, Winarsky had argued that virtual personal assistant services should be focused on specific verticals. If you make these products too broad, then the answers they provide aren’t going to be very good. Siri, he said, was initially designed for travel and entertainment, and SRI has developed other assistant products, including Lola for banking and Desti for travel.

However, when Apple launched its version of Siri, it became a broad cultural phenomenon, with appearances on Big Bang Theory with people asking it all kinds of strange questions. The phenomenon was “quite wonderful, in a way,” Winarsky said, but it also “stretched Siri beyond its initial capabilities.” He added that he’s not privy to the details of how Apple has developed the app, but still, “When you start asking, ‘Siri, do you love me?’ that’s not travel and entertainment.”

Winarsky was also quick to say that none of these problems are Apple’s fault.

“In general, I think Apple did an absolutely superb job,” he said. “I think they have problems that would have occurred anyhow. They have all the resources in the world to solve those problems. These are not unsolvable problems.”