Students hack Siri to do more using Googolplex

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Date: Friday, April 18th, 2014, 08:33
Category: Apple, Google, Hacks, iOS, iPhone, Services, Siri

Screenshot 2014-04-18 02.38.02

Do you ever feel like Siri is just not living up to its potential? Do you wish there was more that Siri could do? Well, you aren’t alone. Some students at the University of Pennsylvania felt the same way and decided to do something about it, and the result was Googolplex. The four students, Alex Sands, Ajay Patel, Ben Hsu and Gagan Gupta, entered their creation into a hackathon and won third place. So, how does this work? Keep reading and we’ll tell you.

What does Googolplex do?

In a nutshell, it allows you to use Siri to perform tasks that Apple has not programmed it for. For example, the Nest thermostat has its own iOS app, but Siri cannot interact with the app to control the temperature in your home. However, there is an interface for controlling Nest that is available through a web page, and by using Googolplex, you can use Siri to trigger a script in your Googolplex account that will send a command to your Nest device using its web interface.

How is Googolplex doing this?

A detailed technical explanation can be found here, but what is happening is that by changing some network settings on your iPhone, and by saying “Googolplex” before each command, Siri, thinking it is going to get an answer from Google, actually passes through Googolplex’s server instead which interprets the command and executes the appropriate script.

How do I setup Googolplex on my iPhone?

The setup is pretty easy, although if you are not comfortable changing network settings on your iPhone, this hack is not for you. Also, you need to be running iOS 7. The basic instructions are as follows;

  1. On your you iOS device, go to Settings > Wi-Fi
  2. On your selected network, click the “i” icon
  3. Scroll down and select “Auto” under “HTTP PROXY”
  4. Enter http://totally.betterthansiri.com in the URL field

To use Googolplex, you will need to create an account, and then you are free to add and configure pre-made scripts to do your bidding, or if you know Javascript, you can create your own an then upload them for other users to enjoy.

Is Googolplex safe?

Weeeeelll…keep in mind that this is a hack, not a genuine service. Googolplex is exploiting what is essentially a security flaw, called a ‘man-in-the-middle’ exploit in the way Siri accesses information on the internet. While the programmers assure that users’ info is kept private, anything you ask Googolplex to do through Siri, and the results, could be recorded and scripts accessing web interfaces will need to store your user name and password for that site, so definitely don’t use the same password that you use for anything else.

Can I still use Siri to access Google?

Yep! The only requests that pass through Googolplex’s servers are ones that are prefaced by the word “Googolplex”. Asking Siri to “Google Justin Beiber’s arrest record”, will go directly to Google.com and work normally.

What are the downsides to using Googolplex?

Other than the passing of certain info through their servers, as mentioned previously, the only downsides include;

  • The service currently only works with Google.com, so if you live outside the US and have to use another Google domain such as Google.be (Belgium), it won’t work.
  • After all your hard work of setting everything up, Apple is likely to block the hack so it doesn’t work in a future iOS update.
  • It’s not all that useful unless you have home automation devices to control, or a Spotify account, although people seem to be finding other ways to use it.
  • Siri can already be kind of slow when retrieving info from the internet, so going through Googolplex’s limited servers will tend to be even less responsive.

How do I disable Googolplex?

Just follow the setup instructions and remove http://totally.betterthansiri.com from the URL field, leaving it blank, and your phone will be back to normal.

Why “Googolplex”?

A googolplex is the number 10^googol, i.e. 10 to the 10th power to the 100th power (it’s a REALLY big number), but from the Googolplex web site;

“We named our hack “GoogolPlex,” to symbolize the near-infinite number of possibilities Siri could reach with our hack. But there is also a strategic and necessary reason we named it this. When a user says “GoogolPlex, turn off the lights,” Siri hears this as “Google ‘Plex turn off the lights,’” interpreting that the user wants to Google something. Siri then searches Google for the words “Plex turn off the lights,” and this is where GoogolPlex comes in. We are able to get the words the user was asking Siri by intercepting the request between Siri and Google with a man-in-the-middle exploit.”

 

It will be very interesting to see how this develops (and how quickly Apple acts to shut it down). With rumors of Siri gaining Shazam-like music identification in iOS 8, hopefully Apple will eventually introduce an API allowing developers to program similar functionality directly on the phone.

 

 

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