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Siri: An IT Inflection Point

For many, the iPhone 4S was a bit of a disappointment. It didn’t include some of the most anticipated features, and for those, fans will have to wait a bit longer. But I view the 4S as easily the most significant IT product release since the original iPhone, the last product that served to fundamentally reshape IT and the IT industry.

I must admit up-front that I don’t even currently use Apple products (although family members do, so I have up-close experience with them). But that doesn’t matter–I’ve seen and heard enough of Siri to conclude that it’s “the big one.” I’m not saying that it is necessarily in its current incarnation a life changer for its users, but it is already shaping up to be a game changer because with the successful introduction of Siri, Apple has initiated the new competitive battlefield for the IT industry.

For the first time we have a “good enough” general-purpose and natural language interface-based AI, which means that there is no going back. As Siri and her ilk become more capable they will inevitably become a required capability on just about all computing devices and systems, and will become the dominant competitive differentiator among computer-based products. As with the Internet, it will be hard to imagine what life was like before the Siris. And what is really most important and intriguing is that it is a capability that can grow without limits–there is simply no functionality end-point in sight. She and her competitors will inevitably become increasingly more intelligent, more nuanced, more engaging, with ever more personality, and with a personality that co-evolves with their users—in short, symbiotic and indispensible.

People still often persist in talking in terms of Web 2.0 or even Web 3.0, but as I argue in The Learning Layer, seen most broadly, the IT era since about the turn of the 21st century is best thought of as the Era of Adaptation–the unifying theme being that our systems learn from their experience with us and adapt and personalize accordingly. Amazon and Google were the large-scale pioneers of this era with their product recommendations and search that adapted based on user behaviors (purchase histories and web page linking, respectively). Social networking, and most prominently Facebook, with its vastly expanded capacity for capturing behavioral information, followed. Then advertising that is targeted according to inferences of preferences from behavioral information became the standard. The iPhone revolutionized the delivery device for adaptive applications, enabling those capabilities to be delivered to users continuously. And now Siri paves the way for adaptive personalization and a wide variety of other AI-based capabilities to synergize and evolve without bounds.

From a competitive dynamics standpoint it is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out, as Siri-like capabilities combined with learning layer concepts could become the most powerful IT “lock-in” capability of all time. Once such a super-Siri builds up a history of shared experiences with you, the switching costs will be immense. It would be like losing your soul-mate. In fact, you will never again be just buying a machine, but rather, the soul in the machine. Or more realistically, an immortal soul in the cloud that outlives any individual machine. Far-fetched? Let’s check back every year or so and see. Or just ask Siri.