Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

December 2011

CALO stands for “cognitive assistant that learns and organizes” according to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency).

Siri is the name of Apple’s CALO. Siri “talks” to iPhone 4S users. Currently, Siri understands English, German, and French; next year, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish will be added.

Two years ago, you may recall, DARPA ran a contest with a $40,000 prize to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ARPANet — the beginning of technology that makes the Internet go ga-ga, goo-goo, google, etc.

The contest was open to the world. Ten red weather balloons were to be tethered around the country at
9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 5, 2009. The prize would go to whoever was first to find all 10 balloons.

A team from MIT — I don’t have to write out Massachusetts Institute of Technology, do I? — won, finding all in less than nine hours.  The key to MIT’s success was money. They invited everyone to sign on to their team and recruit other people. If they won, they promised the finder of each balloon $2,000. Then they promised payoffs to recruiters of winners, and then the recruiters of recruiters, until all the money was shared out.

The military was interested in knowing how the Internet could be used to build networks capable of finding widely dispersed “targets.” Here’s an interesting (to me anyway) little insight: Eight of the balloons flew in parks; the other two in busy centers — Union Square in San Francisco and Collins Avenue in Miami. 

Memphis was the most central location. 

I wonder how long it would take if repeated. Would Siri, the voice of CALO, cut a little time off the record?  Siri, a “she” just like the lady in your GPS, will not only remember to remind you to pick up your prescription, she’ll also soon figure out when you should take the pill and when to get a refill. Siri is not an old CALO that learns and organizes, she’s a new CALO who learns and organizes.