Siri Inc., whose technology was born out of the largest artificial-intelligence project ever launched, has released an application for the iPhone that company executives say will take voice-activated search to a new level.

"It's more of a 'do engine' than a search engine," Chief Executive Dag Kittlaus said. "You just ask your phone to do things for you."

Spun out from a Stanford University research lab a couple of years ago, San Jose-based Siri had been raising venture capital and adding prominent VCs to its board of directors while it kept a tight lid on the technology it was developing.

But now the company's virtual-personal assistant is available for the iPhone, and soon will be available for the BlackBerry and for Android-powered phones, Kittlaus said.

While voice-search products are becoming more common, Siri stands apart because of the "cognitive software" that is combined with advanced speech recognition technology, the chief executive said. Cognitive software returns more targeted search results over time, getting "smarter" as it learns a user's preferences.

Unlike other voice-search programs, Siri performs tasks--for instance finding restaurants, movies, plane tickets or ATMs for the user. The user simply says, "Find me a plane ticket to New York next Friday," for example, and Siri will serve up some suggestions. If a user asks where he can get his haircut, Siri can offer suggestions within walking distance of that person's current location.

"There's nothing else like this out there," Kittlaus said.

Siri's app is connected to a whole ecosystem of Web services and programming interfaces, company materials said. Additionally, Siri has partnered with voice-activation company Nuance Communications Inc. (NUAN), so the user can get a plethora of Web results simply by speaking a command into the phone, or asking a question.

Siri is building variations on a technology developed by nonprofit research-and-development company SRI International, which several years ago led a $200 million research project on artificial intelligence, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

SRI's contribution to the project was the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, or CALO, Kittlaus said. CALO brought together language-processing functions with cognitive software, according to company materials.

Siri has raised about $24 million from Menlo Ventures and Morgenthaler Ventures, according to VentureWire records. Kittlaus said the company also raised funding from Li Ka Shing Foundation.

(Dow Jones VentureWire covers news about venture capital investing and start-up companies.)

-By Timothy Hay, Dow Jones VentureWire; 415-439-6625; Timothy.Hay@dowjones.com

 
 
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