Reading this recent Tech Crunch article made me think that we may be a step closer to the day that we can talk to our computers and get information that we want as if we are conversing with the computer. That is, Google’s goal (and arguably the goal of many other companies) of the Star Trek Computer. Siri or Google Now isn’t even close to this yet. Why? Because the problem is hard. The article linked to above reminds me of a keynote at KDD 2012 by Robin Li, Founder and Chairman of Baidu, China’s largest search engine. His talk was less about established problems in Machine Learning and more about the problems that the company faces. One example is the ability to do voice recognition across the various dialects of Chinese and in the presence of background noise.
In any case, I think the voice-interacting Star Trek computer is one of the largest unsolved problems in Tech. I look forward to the day that I can be driving in my car or walking the dog and say, “Computer, inform me about the history of public education in the United States …”. In a future post, I may compile a list of specific technical issues that have prevented us from this goal along with areas of research containing valiant attempts to solve parts of this problem. I welcome emails and comments from AI/Machine Learning buffs with pointers :).