Betty Is A Siri-Like App That Turns Plain English Into Code


Working with the command line isn’t always easy as you have to memorize all sorts of commands like like “rm,” for removing a file, or “grep,” which finds particular chunks of text buried in a collection of files. That’s why, Google engineer and open source developer, Jeff Pickhardt created Betty a tool that translates plain English into Unix commands, the commands that popped up on the UNIX operating system in the ’70s and are still used by Apple’s OS X operating system, the open source Linux OS, and even Microsoft’s PowerShell environment.

It came out of my frustration from never remembering certain commands, like the specific flags for unarchiving a file,” said Pickhardt. “It’s hard to remember the exact compress and uncompress commands, and I would always look it up in my cheat sheet. Now, I can just say: ‘Betty, uncompress myfile.tar.gz.’”

Betty isn’t voice controlled. You still have to type in your commands. But like Apple’s Siri, it can process natural language. Today, Betty only recognizes a few commands — mostly the ones Pickhardt himself has trouble remembering. But because it’s open source, anyone can can add to it, and Pickhardt hopes other developers will help expand Betty’s vocabulary.

Eventually, Pickhardt would like to add voice recognition and make Betty more than just a tool for programmers. “Long term, the project could move beyond the command line,” he says. “I think there should be an open version of the intelligent personal assistant, to control a computer with natural language input. Apple has Siri, Google has Google Now, but shouldn’t there be an open version as well?”