What Can't Siri Do? British Researchers Put The Apple iOS Application To The Test In Life Science Experiment [VIDEO]

 @CareyDrew2 on May 10 2012 10:33 AM

Ever since the launch of the iPhone 4S in 2011, Siri has been an integral part of the Apple consumer experience.

The intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator, which works as an application for Apple's iOS, is put to the test everyday by users who request recommendations for nearby restaurants, or directions to a given location.

According to Apple, Siri performs these tasks by adapting to the user's personal preferences over time and eventually personalizing results.

But while many experienced Users pretty much know what Siri can and cannot do, one group of researchers has decided to really put her capabilities to the test.

British Telecom, a British multinational telecommunications services company headquartered in London, has actually turned Siri into a fully-functional lab assistant.

Last month, at a conference in Boston, Mass., BT's Bas Burger used Siri to launch a mock experiment that analyzed data on the new cloud service that the company built specifically for life sciences R&D, according to Eric Smalley of Wired.

A YouTube video, which captures the experimental footage, shows Burger asking Siri to crunch some numbers on BT's cloud using a common research tool called Pipeline Pilot. After confirming the request, Siri went to work and eventually produced accurate results for the experiment.

Wired reports that the Siri-in-lab-coat app was developed at BT headquarters in September and was intended to make it easier for scientists to run online experiments.

Put together by BioTeam, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based consulting firm that serves life sciences research, BioTeam co-founder and director of technology Chris Dagdigian tells Wired that the app is merely a proof-of-concept.

It proves that we weren't completely insane when we were thinking about this idea in a room in the U.K., Dagdigian says.

While the research is certainly ground breaking, it also shows significant progessi in a larger movement across the life science field to harness the power of the cloud computing.

While the process of research and development in most labs requires massive amounts of data collection, avoiding a data overload crisis is a constant worry among some of the larger companies, such as BT. Preventing this is going to require order-of-magnitude improvements, according to Dagdigian.

One potential solution is a new data-compression format dubbed CRAM that compares sequence data against a reference genome and only includes the differences.

It would be cool if storage arrays could natively do CRAM compression and decompression on-the-fly, the BioTeam leader tells Wired.

That is where Siri would come in -- in theory, the Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface would help researchers move data to the cloud and analyze it once it's there.

As the YouTube video, which shows Siri as a lab assistant, is a just a concept for now, Apple has yet to release a software development kit or public API for the tool.

So in order to make this a reality, BioTeam developers Bill Van Etten and Adam Kraut turned to a Siri proxy server kludge built by a man named Pete Lamonica.

The proxy listens to the traffic traveling between your iPhone and Apple's Siri servers, intercepts your custom commands, and routes them to the appropriate application.

According to the Wired report, Apple could shut the program down at any time with a new version of its software. But until they do, users can access it on GitHub for no charge.

A fully automated life sciences cloud is not available as of now, but researchers look forward to the advent of the software.

Using Siri to voice-control scientific experiments on the cloud (screencast)

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