Michigan City native talks about digital 'personal assistant,' pace of tech change

2013-09-29T23:00:00Z 2013-09-30T18:14:10Z Michigan City native talks about digital 'personal assistant,' pace of tech changeSusan O’Leary Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
September 29, 2013 11:00 pm  • 

MICHIGAN CITY | A Michigan City native and the co-founder of Siri, the iPhone’s vocal “personal assistant,” was the guest speaker at the Purdue North Central Sinai Forum on Sunday at Elston Middle School.

Dag Kittlaus, a 1985 Elston graduate, wowed the audience with predictions on the future of technology, but first, he reminisced.

“I haven’t been in this building since I graduated in 1985,” Kittlaus said. “And I ran into my seventh-grade girlfriend. I was 15 years old and she went for a 16-year-old guy who had a car.”

Dressed casually in an untucked dress shirt with sleeves rolled to his elbows, Kittlaus told the audience about the origins of Siri — a Norwegian word for “beautiful women that lead you to victory” — and how the technology was ultimately acquired by Apple in 2010.

“It’s something special to see your baby get launched by the biggest technology company in history at the height of their influence,” Kittlaus said.

He recalled sitting in front of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ fireplace for three hours, talking about the future.

“I thought, I’ve come a long way from Elston,” Kittlaus said, as the audience laughed.

Calling Siri a “do” engine rather than a search engine, Kittlaus said finding information is only the beginning.

“You want the system to get to know you personally ... what kind of food you like, when you travel, do you like the aisle seat,” Kittlaus said. “It’s like having an assistant with you all the time. I think that’s the future.”

Kittlaus said the “bigger story” is about how quickly technology is changing, and he reviewed technological innovations, such as self-driving cars, house paint that will harness solar energy, and nanoscopic technology that will revolutionize medicine and lengthen life spans.

“Self-driving cars are coming way sooner than later ... they are already happening,” Kittlaus said. “And they are way better than we are at driving.”

In another area, he said, patients will be able to put a drop of blood on a “lab on a chip,” which will diagnose up to 50 different diseases. Also, nanoscopic drug delivery systems will fight cancer.

“The virus-like module will seek out cancerous cells, completely ignoring everything healthy,” he said. “There is some debate right now that the first person who is going to live to be 200 or even 500 years old is already alive.”

A self-proclaimed optimist, Kittlaus said that although technological advancement could be used for evil, for the most part, innovations will vastly improve lives across the globe.

“The danger of this is that when you can start to manipulate things on a small scale, it also empowers the terrorists of the world,” Kittlaus said. “That is a danger, and all kinds of think tanks are trying to make sure to minimize the risk. In general, there will be so much more investment in using it for good.

"The world is a much better place now than it was 50 years ago.

“The only constant is technological change,” Kittlaus said. “There have been so many good things that come from it that it staggers the mind.”

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