Siri, the scene-stealing voice-activated command center of the new iPhone 4S, has created quite a stir, inspiring at least one love song and a Tumblr documenting her pointed witticisms. She is certainly gaining on Autocorrect in popularity and possibly in perceived utility, if not hilarity.
Conceptually, voice interface holds great appeal. In our research, when we talk to people about their gadgets, voice is frequently suggested as the imagined ideal interface. People picture immediate interactions that eliminate pesky thumb typing and don’t distract from critical tasks, such as driving. But when we think a little more deeply about the concept of voice-command with people, it’s clear that this kind of out-loud interface is not the interface for all times and places. Even the voice interactions that have been around for awhile are out of favor. People prefer texting over voice-calls for privacy and expediency, and despise talking to automated systems.
While attending a conference over this past weekend, I personally overheard a man tersely exclaim, “Not NOW, Siri!” in the middle of a presentation. This suggests that relationships being formed with Siri are progressing beyond infatuation at an accelerated pace. We’ll be keeping an eye on how Siri’s use plays out in real-life situations over time and where the real value lies, as her undeniable charms wear off.
A couple of recent articles with interesting perspectives on Siri’s limits and potential impact:
Is Siri artificially intelligent or just a robot? [macleans.ca] – How does Siri come by her pithy attitude? This article suggests that it’s much the same way that Crispin Porter + Bogusky set up the hilarious Burger King marketing campaign 10 years ago, Subservient Chicken, in which a man dressed in a chicken suit seemed to respond to even the most ludicrous typed commands via a “live” interactive webcam set up in a shady-looking apartment. This was accomplished by staging clips with pre-programmed responses to a large enough number of imagined inquiries that verisimilitude was achieved.
The key to AI is the ability to creatively solve a problem. There’s no denying that Siri’s ability to recognize and translate voice plus grammar into usable data or actions qualifies. In that sense, Siri possesses what seems to be a good level of artificial intelligence. However, with the sort of stuff showing up on the websites…a good portion of Siri’s capabilities are likely simple programmed responses. It’s doubtful that even IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which not too long ago whupped human butt on Jeopardy, could construct such creative and funny responses as, “No comment, douche bag” to questions such as “Are you menstruating?” In such regards, Siri is more of a programmed robot than a thinking entity. Somebody somewhere—or more likely, many people somewhere—have spent a good deal of time anticipating and then programming Siri with potential questions and their respective answers, humourous or otherwise.
How Siri, the Apple iPhone 4S’s ‘Virtual Personal Assistant,’ Could Transform Music [billboard.biz] – Apps are just solutions to problems; this article suggests that, if uptake is significant, Siri might potentially eliminate the need to access specifically branded apps to get stuff done. Implications go well beyond music, obviously.
If an iPhone user asks Siri what the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey are, many people won’t care much whether TuneWiki or any other app fulfills the request. All that matters to them is that their request gets fulfilled in a timely manner, and that they’re soon happily singing, “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.” Similarly, if a user is seeking concert listings for the night, which match up to the songs on their iPhone, they’re unconcerned whether Songkick, Bandsintown, or Ticketmaster produces the results as long as they get them fast and accurately. Siri fundamentally changes how iPhone users think of apps, which is the point…Shazam and Pandora aren’t just apps; they’re features. To use them, a person should only need to know that they want to identify a song or listen to a custom radio station and-like magic-the desired process should occur. Siri can be the genie who makes it happen.