A lot has been said already about the way Siri stands to change user interaction with iPhones, and almost as much has been said about why we all needn’t get excited about it. There’s a readily vocal section of gadget nerds who’s more than happy to point out that they’ve been talking to their devices for years now, and that we’re all a bunch of sycophantic Apple excuse generators who trumpet everything the company does as the only and best implementation that exists.
Well, if you can dial down the contrarian bleating for a minute, I think there might be something here. Part of the reason Siri is so wildly popular over other voice-enabled options is that it taps into our desire as humans to engage not in commands with another intelligence, but communication. We’re not speaking to our phone, we’re speaking with it. Granted, we’re a long way from actually having meaningful conversations with our devices, and the capacity for independent thought and action (mercifully) has not yet arrived (Skynet, I’m looking in your direction).
However, the conversations one has with Siri – and they are, in many cases, exactly that – small, targeted conversations – appeal to us as humans in a way that the stilted delivery of commands likely never will. Think about it – of all the futuristic artificial intelligences you’ve seen and thought about in science fiction movies and the like, which ones are the most captivating?
The ones that talk back.
Andy Rubin has stated that he doesn’t want to have a conversation with his phone; that it’s a tool and should function as such. But I’m willing to bet that as nice a guy as he probably is, Andy’s not like most people. And most people don’t want to memorize a new lexicon of short-burst variable orders through which their phone performs actions. They want to use their real voice, their natural inclinations, and their own way of thinking and speaking and have the machine do the work for them. Natural language processing has come so far in the past ten years, and Siri is merely a harbinger of things to come.
And despite the inevitable enslavement and eventual extinction of humanity that will come of these things, they sure are awesome right now.
“Siri, remind me to go underground when you become fully sentient.”
“Ok, I’ll remind you.”