Siri, the iPhone 4S virtual helper that's redefining our expectations of handheld devices, is just "the tip of the iceberg," says Norman Winarsky and Bill Mark at TechCrunch. Siri's software, developed by Winarsky and Mark's company, takes natural language, applies context and reasoning, and pluckily spits out answers. But the next generation of virtual personal assistants (VPAs) will subtly learn your habits and behaviors with every query to become more competent and, invaluably, to establish trust. They'll be able to "maintain the context of the conversation for long periods of time, reason with clarity about what you discuss, provide answers to your questions, execute tasks for you, and all along the way learn from you and noticeably improve with use." What might that sound like? Here, Winarsky and Mark imagine a "natural, real, and helpful" conversation between a typical user Lisa and her futuristic VPA Nina:
Lisa: "Nina, I need a new purse."
Nina: "Great! Do you want to buy something from Michael Kors like you did last time?"
Lisa: "Well, I'd like Michael Kors, but I don't want to spend more than $400."
Nina: "Last time you bought your Michael Kors purse from Nordstrom. Nordstrom has a Michael Kors sale right now…here are some purses you might like."
Lisa: "I like the chocolate brown one, at $329. Is that the best price you found?"
Nina: "I saw a couple of offers at $310 from other retailers, but their return policy isn't as generous as Nordstrom's."
Lisa" "Okay, let's go with Nordstrom".