A conversation with the iPhone Siri
The new voice-controlled assistant on the iPhone 4S has minimal ambitions right now. But in the long run, its potential is mind-boggling. Rajiv Makhni writes..
Disruptive Technology: It's a term that makes most techies go gooey with excitement. It's when a technology or a product comes along that breaks the norm, disrupts the lethargy of copycat features and turns the whole category inside out. Every company aims for a massive disruption, every inventor dreams of cracking one and every user has her or his jaw on the floor, giddy with breathless excitement.
Unfortunately, disruptive technologies are few and far between. A mobile phone in itself was disruptive technology as it took communication out from a fixed building and made it portable across the world. Sending the first SMS, accessing the Web and reading mail from a mobile phone… each was a tumultuous event. Of late, Microsoft Kinect is a great showcase of how we will all control technology and our lives with words, gestures, expressions and movements rather than with remotes, mice or even a touchscreens. Another precursor to that is now Siri.
If you haven't been living under a rock for a while, you will know that Siri is the all new personal voice-controlled assistant on the iPhone 4S. Voice control and speech to text isn't new and Siri has very minimal ambitions right now. But in the long run, the potential and aspirations of this are mind-boggling. In a phone that, in my opinion (for the iMafia out there), is mostly disappointing, Siri shines like a beacon of light.
Who are you, Siri?
I am a personal voice assistant that can recognise a lot of what you say. You can ask me questions in a normal fashion and without sounding like a stunted, mechanised, demented robot. Stick to the things I know - ask me to read a message and dictate a reply back, search for information, set an alarm, turn on a timer, work with almost all the built-in apps, look up a street and some specific address - and I will do stuff intelligently.
Try and act smart and ask me stupid stuff like "what is the meaning of life?" and you will get quite an earful back. I have a pretty edgy personality and a very colourful vocabulary and as homage to my edgy repartee, they've already set up a website (http://shitthatsirisays.tumblr.com).
But Siri, can you make sense of us all, across the world?
I can do different languages (English, French, German) and do pretty OK with accents too. I am not clunky as my entire AI is very focused on doing only certain things and I am very well integrated into the phone. I may not have all my features enabled in each country and may not be able to pull off local map searches or destinations. I am in beta right now but in the long run, I will do much more.
Why are you a girl, Siri? Isn't that playing to the stereotype of a female assistant?
Well, as 97 per cent of assistants are female, I don't know how to break away from a stereotype that is also reality. Also, most GPS guiding system voices are female, most assisting robots are female and the default on most voice dictation is female. I'm just going with the flow. But just to make things interesting and pull off an Applesque contradiction, I am a man in the UK. Please don't ask if that is pandering to the male butler stereotype for that region. I have no idea. Ask the Brits.
But others have done this, Siri. Why are you disruptive?
Are you talking about apps like Vlingo and Dragon? Well, that's exactly why I am disruptive. In typical Apple curator style, I've taken from what should have worked well, what was on the wish list for all, simplified it, given it a human touch and made sure it works.
I am pretty revolutionary as I use many different technologies to achieve what looks simple but has been impossible to achieve till now. Deep inside me is a speech-to-text analyser (takes your voice and converts it to text), a lexical analyser (makes that text trigger actions and set off commands) and app conversation (those triggers then do specific functions inside an app). Because I'm limited to these, I don't meander off and do silly things like send a message to the wrong person ("I think you're hot" sent to your girlfriend but delivered to your boss!). And in the future, as my capabilities grow, the sky is the limit.
But aren't you embarrassed by your name, Siri? You're a buttock in Japan and slang for a well endowed man in Georgia...
Yeah yeah yeah, very funny. It's not Siri but Shiri in Japanese for a bottom and yes, it sounds exactly the same when said. And to all those who keep thinking that they will have to refer to their phone as a butt, you don't really have to keep saying Siri this and Siri that. And that slang word siri for a man with extraordinary proportions, since when is that a bad thing? Eat your heart out, Micro-Soft!
Wow! OK, goodbye for now, Siri
No goodbye, I'm right here monitoring everything you say and do. And watch it. I don't like it when you write anything even faintly against the Apple world. They were going to name me the iMafiaso, till you went and spoilt it by making fun of us as a clan!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor ofGadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
Follow Rajiv on Twitterat twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, October 23
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