Kinect 2.0. Siri For Everyone Else? Possibly.
You know I was watching this ad for Siri (posted after the break) just now, and got to thinking how much Siri reminded me of what I envisioned Kinect For Mobile would be like.
Microsoft has spoken several times since even before Kinect launched last autumn, about bringing the concept to mobile. Initially, I had not given it much thought – almost laughed at the idea at one point. But back during the spring, the idea lodged in my mind, and I began to think about it a bit, and came up with this concept of how it would work. And what I came up with, was pretty much Siri with a hi-def, 3D camera . . . of course this was before I had heard of Siri. But after seeing the Kinect portion of Microsoft’s E3 2011 press event, you kind of get the feeling that everything they are doing with Kinect on Xbox right now, is a poor mans’ prototype for what they intend to do with mobile and PC in 2012, with near simultaneous launches of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
Of course by then, we will likely be looking at Kinect 2.0 – improved hardware specs, HD camera, dedicated hardware co-processing, vastly improved software, size reduction, and who knows what else. It will certainly be very interesting to see what they come up with. And the certainty that Kinect 2.0 (or perhaps just simply, Kinect for Windows) is going to launch with Windows 8 (at the very least), was an idea that has been toying around in my head for over a year now. But was pretty much confirmed as far as I am concerned, when Microsoft finally debuted before the world, the Windows 8 UI, at the All Things D conference. In all their literature, Microsoft keeps stating that while Win8 will work with a mouse and keyboard, that it was designed “touch first”. And sure enough, now that the preview build of Win 8 is out, it does indeed work with a mouse. However, anyone with even a passing knowledge of Kinect in it’s current form, can easily that maybe “touch first” is not the adjective Microsoft should be using to describe the Win 8, but “Kinect first” would be a more apt descriptor.
So Microsoft has stated, almost matter of factly, that some iteration of Kinect will be coming to Windows Phone, and they have shown up already with a desktop Windows 8 UI, that heavily favors Kinect. You really begin to see this thing come full circle. But as anyone who has watched demos of Siri is already well aware, it’ll take a lot more than just a fancy 3D camera with a mic array, to bring a Siri-like experience to any device that Apple does not have a direct hand in bringing to market. You need some world class speech recognition software, as well a pretty competent artificial intelligence, plus some sort of cloud infrastructure to back it all up. But here is the surprising bit, Microsoft already has all of that – they just never use any of it.
One of the advantages of being a large tech company that’s been around for three decades, is often found in the inspired projects that never came to market as a consumable product. To wit, we all remember Peter Molyneux’s now famous introduction of the world, to Milo & Kate at E3 2010, a game Lionhead Studios was then building for Kinect on Xbox 360? Many skeptics at the time, were quick to point out that it was all smoke and mirrors, ‘it’s not real; Microsoft is faking it,’ are the types of statements that went up on many an internet forum, back during the summer of 2010. Well, in actuality, it was real, it just wasn’t all hosted on an Xbox 360. In several interviews on the subject matter of Milo, Lionhead Studio reps freely pointed out that most of the AI that powered Milo, ran on a server in the cloud.* Bits of the AI, as well as the voice recognition software, ran locally on the Xbox 360. Molyneux himself, would go on record confirming that in one interview, where he explains how he discovered the AI that powered Milo, as a long dormant project into a learning AI, that had been worked on and then shelved in one of the research labs at Redmond.* He further explains some of the advantages of hosting Milo’s intellect in the cloud. Among those advantages, were access to more processing power than a mere Xbox 360 could produce, the ability for Milo to not only learn from it’s immediate user, but from all users of the program worldwide, the ability to feed current events like weather, news and sports directly into Milo, and have the program on the client side, converse meaningfully with users, as if Milo were really connected to the real world.* So if for example, you were a fan of a particular sports team, and Milo knew you were a fan of said team, then he could converse with you about matters concerning that team – even stuff that you probably didn’t know, because Milo has a direct link to an online database, filling his impressionable, little mind with all manner of data concerning the interests of his user.
Ultimately my whole point being, even though Microsoft has supposedly put Milo & Kate on indefinite hold, the company still has the technology on hand to bring a similar experience to any device running one of there operating systems. And make no mistake about it, with the right changes to the software, a Siri-like experience, maybe one even better, is certainly within reach of Redmond, should they chose to flex those muscles. And of course they want to flex those muscles. Just in home entertainment alone, the idea of smart televisions, blu-ray players, A/V receivers, etc., that you talk to, and don’t require any form of remote control whatsoever, is a pretty powerful selling point, that many an OEM is more than willing to pay big bucks for to embed into their home entertainment devices. And that is probably the worst thing about Apple buying Siri, is no Siri for anything non-Apple related. Considering how awesome the concept is, that is such a shame, especially considering that the guys at Siri were in the process of porting their software to every platform under the sun. At least with the potential of Kinect 2.0, the world will get to see something Siri-like, perhaps if we are lucky, even an improvement on the concept, on a lot more devices, as Microsoft has no qualms licensing their tech out to any and everyone who wants it. So I’d imagine that by late 2012, to see it in all 3rd gen Windows Phone devices, as well as in all Windows 8 PCs, laptops, netbooks and tablets. And perhaps by 2013, even in a wider array of devices beyond just computers and phones. Say televisions, blu-ray players, settop boxes, and so on. Hell, who knows, even in your refrigerator.
Don’t scoff at that last one, LG was producing PC-powered smart refrigerators way back in 2002. The idea of a smart fridge that could track and cross reference every item inside by ownership, age, expiry, location, and a whole range of other variables, would be more than welcome in the home of tomorrow. The one that LG was selling nine years ago, had a 15″ touchscreen interface, broadband access, could tune into live TV, and would even suggests recipes to cook, based on the contents of your fridge. And leaving memos to yourself or other family members, was only a matter of hitting memo and recording it into the fridge’s exterior camera. Fast-forward the idea ahead to 2012, and who knows how far they could take the smart fridge. Matter of fact, LG did not stop at just fridges, but had an entire range of networkable, smart home appliances. Definitely ahead of it’s time, way back in 2002. But is definitely something considering how tech has evolved in almost a decade, I can see going way beyond cellphones over the next few years. And while I highly doubt we will be seeing an iFridge anytime soon, I have little doubt that ARM-powered Windows home appliances are going to be all the rage as the decade matures. And the fact that companies like LG haven’t stopped trying to make dumb devices in our homes, smarter, is a very good sign the next ten years are going to be pretty darned cool. And I have a gut feeling, that Microsoft’s Kinect technology is going to find it’s way into a lot of those experiences.
* I read the news articles revealing this information over a year ago, but do not remember the exact sources. So I searched for them to reference for the article, but could not find what I was searching for. If I should re-locate the links from these interview/articles, I most certainly will update this post to include them, for completionist, as well as reference sake.