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PARC and SRI: Two keys to Apple’s history join forces

Two organizations key to Apple’s history are to be merged into one, as Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) has been donated to SRI International. This will see PARC and SRI research teams working together on future projects.

PARC was where Steve Jobs famously saw the graphical user interface and mouse that were used in the LISA and then Macintosh, while SRI was where Siri was developed …


There’s a little more to the connection between Apple and both PARC and SRI International than the simplified stories usually recounted.

The Steve Jobs visit to PARC

Stanford University points out that the story usually told about Steve’s visit to PARC isn’t accurate. The myth is that Steve saw the pioneering work the organization was doing with a graphical user interface and mouse, and immediately rushed back to Apple to set up the work, which would lead to the creation of the LISA and Macintosh.

In fact, PARC had been publicly sharing the project for some time, and Apple engineers were already using those ideas to work on both the LISA and the Macintosh prior to Steve’s visit. The reason Jef Raskin and others wanted Steve to visit PARC was to see for himself the potential of the technology they were working on – as both GUI and mouse could be seen on existing hardware.

There were actually two visits by groups from Apple to Xerox PARC in 1979. Steve Jobs was on the second of the two.

Jef Raskin, who helped arranged both visits, explained that he wanted Jobs to visit PARC to understand work that was already going on at Apple. The Macintosh project had escaped the chopping block several times, and Raskin had tried to explain to Jobs the significance of the technologies it was incorporating. By showing that other companies considered this kind of work exciting, Raskin hoped to boost the value of the Macintosh’s work in Jobs’ eyes.

There’s even more to it, in that the Macintosh team were actually ahead of the LISA team in developing this revolutionary new approach to computing – a story Raskin tells here.

PAL became CALO became Siri

The distant origins of Siri could be said to be even older. Way back in 1946, Stanford University formed the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) as an innovation center, which became a standalone organization and was later spun off into the company SRI International. It was this company that developed Siri.

Siri began life as a US military project funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The first name the intelligent assistant was given was PAL: Personalized Assistant that Learns.

The project grew, and the assistant was renamed as CALO: Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes.

SRI was actually one of 25 research groups involved in the project, before making the decision to build its own standalone voice assistant. That project was subsequently spun off into its own company – Siri, Inc. – and it was this company Apple bought in order to launch the assistant as Siri in the iPhone 4S. SRI International, meantime, continued its own work as a non-profit.

Xerox donates PARC to SRI International

Xerox has now decided that PARC is a distraction from the company’s core focus on devices geared to print and digital document production and management.

Accordingly, it has donated PARC to SRI International under a deal that will see SRI provide consultancy services to Xerox.

Xerox Holdings Corporation announced today the donation of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) to SRI International, a nonprofit research institute behind some of the world’s most impactful deep tech advancements. The move enables Xerox to focus entirely on delivering new innovations around its own print, digital and IT service offerings, while allowing the PARC team to join a leading research institution to usher in its next evolution of growth.

Xerox PARC was founded in 1970 and established as an independent company in 2002. The organization has pioneered numerous technological advancements, including Ethernet, laser printing, the graphical user interface and ubiquitous computing. Xerox’s donation of PARC to SRI will open new doors of opportunity for both organizations. With its rich history rooted in scientific excellence, SRI is the optimal partner to usher in the next evolution of growth for PARC.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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