Siri: A Tragedy of Capitalism in One Act

Siri is the name of a voice recognition-based personal assistant software owned by Apple Computer Inc. and presently available exclusively on Apple's iPhone smartphone. Siri uses natural language processing to answer spoken questions and make relevant suggestions.

In order to formulate its answers and suggestions, Siri draws upon datasets provided by partners including Yelp, Bing, and Wolfram Alpha.

Siri has proven extremely popular since its introduction on the iPhone 4S in October, 2011, inspiring internet memes, a variety of jokes from comedians, and tribute sites such as the "Shit that Siri Says" tumblr site. Siri may well prove to be a killer app that vaults the already phenomenally successful iPhone to even greater heights of cash ejaculation for Apple.

The tragedy of Siri, however, is that only a single company is getting to reap the benefits of a massive research project on language processing funded by US taxpayers. This research took place over 40 years at a variety of US institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Rochester, Oregon State University, the University of Southern California, and Stanford University. This research was largely funded by DARPA, the US Department of Defense's "Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency."

The finishing touches to the Siri technology were made in the early 2000s by researchers at SRI International (formerly the "Stanford Research Institute"). The Siri corporation was founded by SRI scientists in 2007 to commercialize the findings of all of this government-backed research.

This was all well and good, as Siri's original business model was to license the technology to all comers so that it would ultimately be on every phone and computer, benefiting everyone. However, Steve Jobs recognized how valuable Siri could be if monopolized by a single company, and bought out the entire Siri corporation in April, 2010 for around $200 million, just days after Siri had announced that its software was going to become available on all Android and Blackberry smartphones. Siri then immediately discontinued licensing of its technology, thus completing the total and utter privatization of the fruits of years of taxpayer-backed research.

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