Apple's Siri voice control system has gotten a lot of media coverage in the month since it shipped on the iPhone 4S. On one hand, the system works great and gives users some new options for controlling their phone. On the other hand, the system's inability to understand certain accents, server trouble causing it to not work at all sometimes, limited functionality outside the US, and the fact that it's only available on the 4S despite working perfectly well on jailbroken iOS devices have put a dampener on the situation.
Voice control isn't exactly revolutionary either, so there's a debate over how much this iteration of it really changes things compared to existing systems on Android and other OSes. I'm also pretty sure that roughly 98% of what Siri is used for is just useless messing around, like asking it if it loves you. Fart apps 2.0, in some way. Thanks to a new "hack" called Siri Proxy, however, that might all change.
The way Siri works is that the phone recognizes the words and then asks the server what to do with those words. That's why the system breaks down completely whenever Apple's servers overload, which happens more often than it should.
By simply rerouting this communication between phone and server, one "hacker" managed to get Siri talking to his own software and in doing so control his WiFi thermostat. He can now ask Siri what the temperature in the room is as well as adjust it. Everything looks like stock Siri because all Siri ever does is read the info it receives from the server, and that info is easily interceptable and replaceable. Since this is based on communication between the device and the server, it also doesn't require jailbreaking the phone. It's as ingenius as it is simple (all things considered).
While this can naturally be useful for anyone who want home automation, I like the implications it has for anyone with special requirements even better. It's not easy getting to the thermostat if you're in a wheelchair, and if you're blind it might not help much even if you get there.
The iPhone has already gotten a lot of praise from people who use its accessibility features and this would further help that kind of use. The problem of course is that this is a "hack" for now, so it needs to be set up and prove itself in the long run to be of any use to anyone. There is of course the chance that Apple will ban the "hack" and then release it as a integrated OS feature in iOS 6 – only available on the latest iPhone of course – but even if they did I fear a series of iThermostats and iHumidifiers that costs four times what they should and only registers Apple approved weather. Third party systems are unlikely to emerge unless Apple accepts this "misuse" of their system, as it's too easy for them to send their horde of angry lawyers after anyone who dares misuse their systems like this. As for the "hack" itself I think it might stick around, as it's difficult for Apple to control what someone tells their own router to do with certain connection requests.
Either way I do hope that this will catch on. If you like the idea but want the true Star Trek experience, check out the video below; it's of another home automation system that uses an Android phone as a remote for a much more complex system that has voice commands through a dedicated computer.
Both the Siri system and the system below make me wish that I didn't live in an apartment that's small enough for me to just reach over when I want to adjust something.