Technology and products designed by Tom Gruber
Siri is the first mainstream consumer application of a Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA). A VPA is a software agent that interacts with the user in a conversational manner, in a personal context, and acts on her behalf. Tom joined Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus to cofound Siri in 2008. Tom was CTO and led the design of the user experience. Siri is now part of Apple. read more about Siri >>
RealTravel is an example of domain specific, social knowledge sharing in the consumer Internet space. RealTravel.com aspires to be the best place on the web to share knowledge and experiences about travel. The site provides an environment for a community of travel enthusiasts to create beautiful travel journals of their adventures, share them with friends and family, and find other like-minded travelers. People looking for information about where to go, where to stay, or what to do in their travel can learn from the authentic experiences of those who have been there. Tom was cofounder, CTO, and VP of Engineering when he led the design of the original site.
For more information, see the RealTravel Story.
Collaborative Knowledge Management, a pioneering approach to enabling organizational intelligence in the enterprise, is now sold as commercial products in several public companies. The key insight was harnessing the value of collaborative work to create collective intelligence. Tom invented the basic idea of CKM, designed the Intraspect architecture, and worried about the user experience. Over eight years, about 200 people implemented, refined, and customized the product for hundreds of thousands of users. For more information, see the Intraspect story.
In the early 1990’s, a group of AI and DB groups got together to define a standard architecture stack for allowing intelligent systems to interoperate over a knowledge bus and share data, models, and other knowledge without sharing data schema or formats (today it’s called Semantic Web). Tom was part of a collaborative team comprised of colleagues from different institutions and companies, and he co-led the effort for the part of the stack related to ontology sharing. He gets cited a lot for clarifying a definition of ontology for the AI community. See papers on ontology sharing, ontology design, and ontologies as standards.
One of the first integrations of the web with email, Hypermail turns standard mailing lists into published web accounts and institutional records of conversations. It was distributed freely and widely in the early web years, and is now has an active open source community extending it. Tom built the first version in Lisp in 1994, and Kevin Hughes rewrote it in C and convinced management to release it as open source. It was used to publish and archive the early email discussions (such as www-talk) that shaped the creation of the WWW. Once released to the public, it took off. read more>>
Virtual Documents are a user interaction medium for knowledge systems that exploits the (then) new capabilities of the Web for dynamic hypermedia and the AI techniques for model-based generation of natural language explanations. In contrast to convention GUIs, the virtual document dynamically generates its content as a dialog with the reader. The content is full of hyperlinks, which the user follows to follow up with questions or move to the next level of detail. Tom wasn’t the first to show a dynamic web site, but he was a vocal proponent of the use of generative dynamic interfaces as a communication medium.
The main reason knowledge systems did not become ubiquitous (compared with relational database systems) is the knowledge acquisition bottleneck: it’s hard to build systems that model and act on knowledge of human experts. Tom worked on systems to help knowledge systems build up their knowledge by having them interact with experts in the context of solving problems. see papers
One the worst things about being severely disabled is the difficulty with communication. Conventional communication prosthesis systems are either too slow (essentially one-button keyboards) or too restrictive (limited to a small, fixed vocabulary). In the early 1980’s, Tom built a system that could use knowledge of the domain of discourse of a person to help dynamically suggest menu choices so the one-button input could produce useful output in a reasonable time.