The virtual personal assistant
Credit: Mandy Cheng / AFP / Getty Images

Siri, the iPhone's smart voice-recognition system, was born in a government laboratory. The disembodied voice that plays your music and gets you directions (frequently to the wrong place) was developed as part of a massive DARPA-funded program called Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes. The original idea was to create a digital assistant that would learn over time, adapting the patterns of users and acting – more or less – as Robin to every American solider's Batman. SRI International, the company that kept working on the project after federal funding ran out, eventually building Siri herself, was purchased by Apple in 2010. That vision was never realized, but now we can all call home without using our fingers. Not bad for government work.