Google 'Majel' May Answer Apple Siri

Apple's Siri voice assistant software has spurred Google to tack natural language processing onto its Voice Actions voice command application, a project code-named "Majel."

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Once the ooing and ahhing about the Siri intelligent virtual assistant subsided a bit when the application appeared on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 4S in October, the tech press conjured questions concerning potential Siri competitors.

Now comes evidence from the blog Android and Me that Google's answer to Siri is a natural language processing enhancement to its Voice Actions application that is code-named "Majel." Majel is short for Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the actress who voiced of the Federation computer from Star Trek.

"Where Voice Actions required you to issue specific commands like 'send text to ...' or 'navigate to ...' Majel will allow you to perform actions in your natural language similar to how Siri functions," according to the Android and Me blog.

The software is reportedly being built in Google X, the super-secret (though not so clandestine, thanks to The New York Times) lab led by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Brin did say that one of the Google X projects could come to fruition this year. Could Majel be it?

This would make sense. Google, considered the market leader in voice-enabled search, must scramble to combat the deadly perception that Apple is eating its lunch in anything involving search.

Siri constitutes a major threat to Google, the current mobile search (and desktop) market leader. Mobile search ads are $1 billion a year business for Google.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), it is widely held, is the best challenger. The company has offered Google Voice Search on the iPhone and its Android devices since 2008, and that application has been expanded to cover 29 languages, supporting accents in 37 countries, including the Middle East.

Google in August 2010 launched Voice Actions, which lets users speak commands into their smartphone to browse the Web, send texts and make calls. Like Siri, Voice Actions lets users call businesses and contacts, send texts and email, listen to music, and browse the Web by speaking into their phone.

However, while Voice Actions hews to preset voice controls, Siri goes beyond simple task completion by lending context to certain actions.

Ask it the weather and it will retrieve the info, using an iPhone 4S user's current location. A user can also ask Siri if he or she needs an umbrella, and it will analyze local weather info to determine whether it's going to rain. Voice Actions is like Siri, but "dumber." Google, which prides itself on tackling Herculean challenges, including artificial intelligence tasks, would seem poised to answer Siri.