Technology journalist Robert Cringley has suggested that Siri could be infringing a patent regarding voice recognition that was owned by Excite. Cringely published the suggestion on his blog after watching a Bloomberg interview with Shawn Carolan of Menlo Ventures, an investor in Siri.
Cringely said the approach detailed in the interview sounded “darn similar” as to how the Architext (later Excite) engine worked, which he explained at length:
Here’s how the ArchiText (later Excite) search engine worked. Every query was stripped to its significant words — subjects, objects, verbs and adjectives — then each query became a vector in a multidimensional space with each unique word being a dimension. “How do space rockets stay in orbit when they are flying through space?” would become a vector string one unit long for each of those words but two units long for the word “space.” This bit of semantic DNA was then mapped against an index of millions of web pages that had all been similarly converted to multidimensional vectors. It was quick, scalable, concentrated the processing load on the indexing where it didn’t bog down retrieval, and could reliably return pages like “Why satellites fall from the sky” that might answer the question even though none of the same words were used.
Excite was acquired by Ask Jeeves back in 2004, and it will be intriguing to see whether this patent holds any legal value. Interestingly, the patent’s original inventor, Graham Spencer, now works at Google as an engineer. Coincidence?