Google's answer to Siri: Majel

By on December 14, 2011, 5:00 PM

Since the release of Apple's voice-activated assistant, there have been countless "Siri-killers", "Siri-like apps" and "We already had Siri" headlines littering the web. However, Google's Android may finally provide a worthy analogue to Apple's attempt at understanding natural language. 

Codenamed Majel (may-jell), the new system will supplant Android's current system, Voice Actions, early in 2012. The new technology promises to interpret your everyday language instead of relying on Voice Actions' rigid verbal command syntax. 

In an interview regarding Ice Cream Sandwich, Google Android director, Matias Duarte noted, "Our approach is more like Star Trek, right, starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware." hinting at a future where voice activation is ubiquitous among devices.

If you happen to be a Star Trek nerd, the name choice is a curious one. As fellow trekkies may know, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was the wife of Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry. She portrayed Nurse Chapel in the original series and Lwaxana Troi in later shows (namely TNG) but perhaps her most recognizable role was that of the Enterprise computer. Majel (the actor) did voice acting for the ship's computer throughout most of Star Trek's history, including the 2009 movie.

Few details are known, but it is safe to say Google has the means to make something amazing. Where Siri was based on DARPA research from decades passed, Majel could be based upon many years of voice data analysis from Google's 411 and Voice services. The company also acquired Phonetic Arts in 2010, a business which specialized in human-like voice synthesis. Together, these things lay the foundation for an impressive virtual assistant experience.

Much like Siri, the initial release of Majel is expected to be somewhat less sophisticated than the final product. The software will not feature natural language commands at first, although it should still provide answers to your questions by utilizing Google's own services. Controlling the actions of your phone and its applications by speaking in everyday language will be coming at a later date.

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