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Will Google fight Apple’s Siri with Alfred?

December 13, 2011

Apple has Siri, and now Google has Alfred.

On Tuesday Google said it had acquired the tech company that has developed Alfred, a smartphone app that acts as a “personal assistant” to make recommendations based on your interests and your “context,” such as location, time of day, intent and social information.

According to Clever Sense, the company that created Alfred and that is now part of Google, the app uses artificial intelligence technology to sift through the Web’s vast amount of data and to recommend restaurants, bars and other real-world places that you might like.

That sounds a lot like Siri, the personal assistant technology that comes built-in to Apple latest iPhone. Siri offers a much broader range of capabilities than those that appear to currently be available with Alfred, allowing users to speak into their phone to manage their calendars,  find nearby restaurants and even inquire about the weather.

But Alfred’s AI recommendation technology could provide an important building-block that Google could pair with its existing voice-recognition technology to create its own answer to Siri.

Google’s head of mobile Andy Rubin famously dissed Siri at the AsiaD conference in October, saying that “I don’t believe that your phone should be your assistant.”

“Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone,” Rubin proclaimed.

But in the frenetic arms race to develop and provide the most popular smartphone software, Google cannot afford to be missing something that Apple has – especially with some industry observers speculating that Apple’s Siri could provide a new paradigm for searching the Web that circumvents Google’s search engine (and, importantly, Google’s lucrative search ads).

[UPDATE] Meanwhile, the tech blog Android and Me reports that another secret Siri-like project, code-named Majel, is in the works at Google and could be released, in some initial form, in the coming months. The technology, named after the voice of a computer in Star Trek ,  is an evolution of Google’s existing voice actions, allowing a phone to understand a user’s natural language instead of specific voice commands, according to the report.

Whatever the moniker – Alfred, Majel, or some other name- it looks like 2012 is shaping up to be a battle of the virtual assistants.

Here’s what Google has to say about its deal to acquire Clever Sense, financial terms of which were not disclosed:

“The Clever Sense team is at the forefront of developing a recommendation engine that connects the online and offline worlds by delivering personal and sophisticated information to users at the right time, the right place and within the right context. By combining their technology and expertise with our team and products, we’ll be able to provide even more people with intelligent, personalized recommendations for places to eat, visit and discover.”

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