Is Siri that stupid? And being that I’m an owner of a couple of Apple products including the iPhone 4S, I don’t discriminate in criticizing any device; even the precious ones from Cupertino. Apple’s “It’s still in beta” response about Siri’s anti-abortion agenda is somewhat hilarious yet sad at the same time. Hilarious in a sense that Apple will always have to deal with such minor issues and sad that people don’t really understand that Siri is just plain dumb. And before the Apple fanboys raise their pitchforks on me and the Androidettes begin twirling in their tutus over how they got it better with 4G and some generic Siri-substitute app, just understand that it’s totally ok that Siri isn’t the next IBM Watson on Jeopardy or that she’s not going to connect with the Skynet Global Network.
If you have been wondering why I haven’t been writing the last few weeks, it’s because I’ve been on vacation travelling with my iPhone 4S in Hawaii. Just 5 years ago, my wife and I visited the islands for our honeymoon and we were armed with printouts of our favorite bookmarks, the Maui/Oahu Unleashed books, the good ‘ol standalone GPS and the curiosity to explore. So, with the latest iPhone, we couldn’t wait to ask Siri to find us fun stuff to do. It would be the ultimate test. This is how I saw mobile technology at its best – when you’re using it in less familiar territories. It almost felt like we were cheating, that is, until we used the friggin’ thing.
If you ask Siri to set your alarm clock to 7am. It’s fine. If you ask what 213 times 114, it’ll give you the answer. Wonderful. But even obvious things like “Start the calculator” to manually calculate a few things or “Give me driving directions to Hono Ona Loa” doesn’t get me what I need. Instead, it mostly gives wild guesses. Even when I got back from Hawaii, my wife and I were strolling around the city and decided to head by Town’s End Restaurant – a popular restaurant and bakery in SF. I would ask Siri “Where is Town’s End Restaurant” and it would respond with “I have found stuff on towns and restaurants”. Next time, I want to look less stupid and do it the old way – actually typing the darn thing. My wife was always annoyed when I used Siri in crowds just to look cool and let everyone know I had the iPhone 4S at hand only for it to backfire badly. I, too, was a bit annoyed but realized something and I definitely am not alone in this experience. Here’s what other people are experiencing Siri to which most of them were pretty hilaroius.
Technology has been always indispensable tools. But sometimes I forget that they are just that—tools. Nobody should be shocked to discover that a hammer isn’t very good at sawing wood, yet when it comes to the more complex technology in our smartphones and computers, we often get angry when it can’t do stuff it was never built to do – well, at least, I do. What really annoys me now is that Siri, unlike that hammer, is actually designed to fool us into thinking it’s intelligent. And after real-world use, it’s not. Siri is only as smart as its programming. It does not learn how you speak. Instead, you learn what it understands and twist your words for it to work. It also depends on a constant network connection, so if you’re driving through the 600+ curves on the mountainous Road to Hana and want to know how far the next rest stop is, you’re out of luck without a connection.
Now, Apple is very aware of this issue and it’s being extra careful in response to this because like many consumer technology companies – especially Apple – it is selling tools masked as a “lifestyle” or an “experience” and that, my friends, is the last thing Apple wants to get across – is that Siri is just a friggin’ hammer – even if it’s a very elegant one. But until the singularity happens, that’s what all of our technology is. As of this writing, Apple is pointing out that Siri is a new technology that’s going to get better in the months and years ahead which I’m confident will happen. But if the day comes when it finally understands what I’m talking about, will it understand the next person I hand my iPhone to for their own queries? What if they’ve never used Siri? Will Siri understand Jive? As far as I’m concerned, Siri still has far more in common with the hammer than with us.