This is what Siri on steroids might look like

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Credit: roonb via Wikimedia

University students hack Apple's voice-command feature to allow third-party developers to build Siri-controlled apps.

Imagine if Apple’s Siri voice-command feature could enable users to control both third-party apps on an iPhone or iPad and external connected devices such as thermostats and light switches. Would life be easier or what?

A quartet of freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania went beyond imagining and recently hacked Siri in a way that allows independent developers to integrate apps' functionality into Apple’s voice-command feature, and iPhone users to verbally ask external apps to perform tasks.

Called GoogolPlex (not to be confused with the corporate headquarters of a certain online search giant, the GooglePlex), the hack took third place in February’s PennApps, an annual hackathon that this year featured more than 1,200 contestants.

GoogolPlex was created by Penn students Gagan Gupta, Alex Sands, Ajay Patel and Ben Hsu, who collectively call themselves The Four Loop. They came up with the idea for GoogolPlex while brainstorming for PennApps.

“We thought Siri was kind of limited,” Gupta tells CITEworld.

So the group “used a man in the middle exploit and a proxy server to intercept Siri requests and redirect them through our own server and user natural language processing to teach Siri new tricks,” as it explains on the PennApps site. “Installation works on any iOS device, even non-jailbroken ones, and it takes less than a minute.”

Instructions for setting up GoogolPlex are here.

Sands says about 1,500 people have signed up to use GoogolPlex, either to develop apps or simply use a version of Siri on steroids.

The Four Loop Team so far has integrated several apps and devices with GoogolPlex, including the Hue wireless lighting system from Philips, Google-owned Nest smart thermostats, Spotify, Google Maps, and Tesla.

“Pretty much any third-party app can be built in,” Sands says. “Because it requires some programming, it’s going to take some time for the commands to come in. But we’re really excited to see what everyone does.”

While VC money may not be coming The Four Loop’s way for a hack into a proprietary iOS feature, Sands says the four have a preferred outcome in mind.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping that Apple will make Siri more powerful,” he says. “That will be beneficial for them and for third-party developers. Giving third-party developers the ability to integrate would be awesome.”

The team posted a video (below) on Vimeo that shows how GoogolPlex could work in everyday life. Upon awakening in the morning, the guy in the video (Four Looper Ben Hsu) verbally instructs GoogolPlex to turn on his bedroom lights, adjust the temperature, play music and unlock his Tesla. Looks like a nice life -- except for the part about sleeping in your work clothes.

GoogolPlex from Four Loop on Vimeo.

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