Google Working On Project Majel As More Than Just A Siri Competitor


Never mind the fact that Google has had voice command applications for Android for a while now, the general public is still smitten by Apple’s Siri.  The dulcet tones and flashing microphone that is currently only available on one member of Apple’s product portfolio has been pushed down our throats, both by media and friends applauding it and making fun of it.  Google is ready to fire back in a big way, and its solution is part of a much bigger plan than just helping you find an open coffee shop on a cold morning.

Google’s Project Majel takes its name from Majel Roddenberry, the wife of famed sci-fi writer and producer Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame.  She was the voice of the Enterprise computer that would answer back with the answer to any query the crew would throw at it.  Google is expecting the same to work for you, as well.

Voice control has been a part of the basic functionality of the Android ecosystem for a while now.  Google’s Voice Search is ubiquitous across the wide range of Android phones and many users have gotten so used to using it that it has replaced the need to use the keyboard for many functions.  While it might not respond with a female voice reading text from a search page to you, it is pretty accurate when understanding commands and questions.

While voice control built in at the kernel and OS level might be nice – and something we’d hope to see by the Jelly Bean release – one should always take Google’s plans with a hint of intrigue.  They haven’t been using Google Voice, Voice Search, and other text protocols just to be able to pinpoint where you’re going to find the last My Little Pony doll in town the week before Christmas.  According to one former Google X project member, their real plans are much more interesting:

This is in total violation of the NDA, but I don’t care anymore. Sue me.

The central focus of Google X for the past few years has been a highly advanced artificial intelligence robot that leverages the underlying technology of many popular Google programs. As of October (the last time I was around the project), the artificial intelligence had passed the Turing Test 93% of the time via an hour long IM style conversation. IM was chosen to isolate the AI from the speech synthesizer and physical packaging of the robot.

The robot itself isn’t particularly advanced because the focus was not on mechanics, but rather the software. It is basically a robotish looking thing on wheels. Speech recognition is somewhat better than what you would get with normal speech input, mostly because of the use of high quality microphones and lip-reading assistance.

I have had the chance to interact with the robot personally and it is honestly the most amazing thing that I have ever seen. I like to think of it like Stephen Hawking because it is extremely smart and you can interact with it naturally, but it is incapable of physically doing much. There is a planned phase two for development of an advanced robotics platform.

There’s nothing like a little bit of intrigue where a new feature comes, especially when we’ve been helping Google to build a natural speech database with every voicemail we’ve left on a friend’s Google Voice account and every time we’ve asked Voice Search where to find a pumpkin spice latte in July.  We’ll be on the lookout for Project Majel in 2012 and will be sure to let you know when it’s available for download or slipped in to your latest phone update.  One thing is for sure: when the Robot Apocalypse comes, at least we’ll be able to understand our new electronic overlords.]]>

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