A voice-controlled future is finally upon us

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Science fiction writers and futurists have long imagined a world in which we control everyday devices with our voice. But that world is nearly upon us, with the latest evidence being Thursday’s New York Times piece indicating that the long-rumored Apple iTV would include Siri-enabled voice controls.

To be fair, Apple won’t be first in bringing voice-controlled TV apps to market: Google TV’s remote app allowed voice controls more than a year ago, and the next update to Microsoft’s Xbox Live will include Kinect-enabled voice controls when it goes live in late November. But Apple’s introduction of Siri as an integrated part of the user interface could take the concept well beyond how we’ve come to think of voice control to this point.

If Siri does emerge as an integral part of the Apple iTV, it won’t be the first time Apple changed media consumption through the input device. The company also revolutionized the way people interact with content with the introduction of the touch screen on the first iPhone. While it might not have been readily apparent at the time, the ability to control iTunes — and later Apple TV — with the iPhone Remote app was the first step in changing the way people controlled media.

More remote apps have since followed, some of which worked directly with devices already in people’s homes and some of which use bridging technologies to do so. Service providers like Comcast and AT&T have introduced apps that connect with their proprietary set-top boxes, allowing people to search and browse channels, and set and update their DVRs through an easy-to-use touch interface. App makers like Peel, Dijit and Logitech have extended that model to create universal remotes that integrate with IR blasters to control all the devices in one home.

With the introduction of Siri, it seems the touchscreen control could soon be replaced by voice controls throughout the Apple ecosystem. But consumer adoption voice control for an iTV or other Apple device is just one step toward a voice-controlled future for all sorts of other devices.

That will enable applications like whole-home automation — the ability to set heat, A/C and light controls — controlled by voice through a unified system. And with persistent connectivity of all these devices — the so-called “Internet of things” — users will be able to speak controls remotely into a phone or other device and have them carried across the network before being implemented in other locations.

This is all very Jetsons-type stuff, the kind of “they promised us jetpacks” future we’ve all been waiting decades for. And we’re finally on the cusp of realizing it. All of which is to say that while asking Siri to perform outrageous tasks and seeing what her response is seems like a novel joke today, someday soon it might not be so unusual to order her to bake you a pie and actually have it defrosted and ready made in the oven when you return from work.

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