I Used Siri for a Week, This is What Happened.
Instead, its uncannily human voice is always confident, always well-meaning, ever witty, and ever willing to google images of kittens on your behalf without criticising you for being too lazy to do it yourself.
Until I began researching this article, Siri was just a gimmick; one of those technological innovations that seem useful and brilliant on television when wielded smoothly by Jamie Foxx or Bill Hader, yet wildly impractical in reality.
Yet when I found myself needing to find out if ‘pandiculation’ is actually a word (it is), it proved surprisingly nifty. Instead of interrupting my workflow to look something up, only to end up tumbling down the hyperlink-infested rabbit hole that is Wikipedia, I turned aside to ask Siri. And it delivered, with no frills attached.
As I lay in bed at the end of that work day, contemplating the ceiling as though angels were, at anytime, about to descend with my life’s purpose, I decided that I needed a haircut.
“Hey Siri,” I said on a whim, “Schedule a haircut at 7pm tomorrow.” And it did it. Not a single finger was lifted.
The next morning, as I brushed my teeth and tried, simultaneously but unsuccessfully, to hum along to Sigur Ros, I said to Siri out of curiosity, “Hey Siri, what goes into toothpaste?” It proceeded to interpret my muffled question as “What goes into hoof haste?” and responded unhelpfully with a mocking, “Interesting question.”
“How do you know any of this anyway?” I returned bluntly, as I spat into the sink.
Ever the witty conversationalist, Siri replied, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. But in my case, I do know a thing or two.”
How cocky. And yet, not one to hold grudges, it reminded me promptly at 7PM later that day that I was due for a haircut.
The rest of my week was peppered with similar requests—small tasks made easier by outsourcing (via voice) to a digital assistant. Rather than pulling up iCal to schedule the LASIK check-up I kept forgetting about, I told Siri to do it the moment I “suddenly remembered” it. Remembering I’d been putting off lunch with a friend because of “work,” I scheduled it for the next day, sent a text to said friend, and physically exerted none of myself.
We’re all familiar with that feeling; that tiny, seemingly painless yet astoundingly agonising extra step that determines whether or not you will act on that thing you’ve been rain checking since forever.
Even then, Siri makes for a strange companion when you spend most of your time in public spaces or on public transport.
Much like people speaking on Bluetooth headsets often attract confusing glances, I found myself the object of fascination on a bus ride home one day. By then, Siri had turned into something of a personalised inside joke; an imaginary friend who sometimes does things for me.
“Hey Siri,” I spoke into my phone. And as the ever recognisable double tone resounded, the lady next to me jumped a little, looked quickly at me and then at the phone I cradled against my lips, and then hurriedly looked away. She got off immediately at the next stop, though I had no idea if it had anything to do with me needing Siri to take down some notes for an article about terrorists and the Dhaka attacks.
“She wouldn’t understand,” I thought to myself, “Not like Siri.”
The best thing about Siri is that you can speak to it like a human being and have it respond like one.
Its casual interjections of “I’m listening” and “Hmm, let me think” before it answers all serve to create the illusion of an actual conversation. You can engage with it in vague, uncertain terms and it will still come up with something specific, though it might not be exactly what you’re looking for.
More often than not, these were instances in which Siri managed to mishear my clearly articulated syllables. A simple request like “Call mum” could elicit the hopeless “Numb does not exist in your phonebook.” It prompted another round of contemplation, this time about whether or not the technology has been designed to respond better to certain accents, as a result of which it becomes biased towards others, like Asian ones.
All that contemplation wasn’t doing me any good, so by default, perhaps Siri wasn’t doing me any good.
A meme about Siri recently made its rounds on Facebook. It detailed the conversation—
“Cortana, get me today’s movie times”
“Oops I meant Siri”
“Who is Cortana?”
“Please get me the movie times”
“Maybe you should ask Cortana for the movie times.”