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My New Cellphone Knows My Name


Odds are by now you’ve heard of Siri, Apple’s new voice recognition software that’s included with its recently released iPhone 4S. I’ve been chatting with Siri for about a month and I’m here to tell you that I’m impressed, for the most part, with what I’ve experienced so far.

But one of the first times I activated Siri I ended up feeling like this was gadgetry that couldn’t really be considered reliable. You’ve likely seen the TV commercials. It was pouring outside, so as a test  I asked Siri if I would need a raincoat. Her answer was disappointing: “No, David, there isn’t a cloud in sight.” I told Siri that she was mistaken and she needed to check again. “There is no rain in the forecast, David.” I turned off the iPhone and tried again after it had restarted, but got the same answer. “There’s not a cloud in sight, David.”

I suspect the problem had to do with the location software built into the iPhone that apparently was telling Siri I was somewhere other than here in Wyalusing. The odd thing is that it’s never happened again. Since then Siri’s forecasts have been right on. Along with giving me a brief sentence about the current weather, Siri opens a weather page from the Internet so you can see what sort of weather is on the horizon for the next few days.

When it comes to the other things I’ve asked Siri to help me with, she’s been perfect.

“Remind me to buy bread at Connies Market,” I say to Siri.

“When would you like me to schedule that, David?”

I tell Siri to make it for 5 p.m. when I leave work and next I see a screen with the location date and time of the reminder typed out perfectly.

“Would you like me to schedule this, David?”

I click a confirm button on the phone and it’s done. Just like that.

When it’s 5 p.m., a chime sounds and the reminder about buying bread at Connies appears on the screen. Reminders can also be set to trigger when you’re near a certain location, so my grocery list would appear when I pull up in front of the market.

If I ask Siri to call my wife, she responds: “There are multiple numbers for Nancy Keeler in your contacts, which one should I use?” I tap Nancy’s work number with my finger and Siri makes the call.

If I tell Siri to send a text message to my son, Mike, I say the message and she types it out and sends it. When Mike replies, I speak my answer and Siri types my words perfectly and sends the text message. Sometimes, if I speak too fast, my spoken words are garbled when converted to text, but as long as I speak distinctly, Siri gets every word just right, although she still hasn’t learned the word Wyalusing and usually types it as “Wilson.”

On the iPhone’s keypad is a key with a small microphone symbol and you can use that key to speak anything you would normally type. If, for example, I’m replying to an email and don’t want to type out a lengthy reply by tapping my thumbs on the tiny keys, I can simply speak my reply and Siri types it out for me and does a great job.

I’ve even tested Siri by seeing if she could answer some of life’s great questions.

“Okay,” I begin.  “What are the actual lyrics to the song Louie, Louie?”

Siri responds quickly. “I’m sorry, David, but I can’t answer that question. Would you like me to search the internet?”

I tell her okay and in a few seconds a page appears offering several versions of lyrics to the song.

When I asked Siri “Who’s the fairest of them all?” she replied: “OK, here you go” and offered a page explaining that Snow White is the fairest of them all in the Brothers Grimm fairytale, Snow White.

If I ask Siri “Where can I buy pizza?” she gives me a list of 18 pizzerias, explaining that some of them are a “bit of a drive.” The closest is in Towanda. A map soon appears showing the location of all 18 and when I select one, I have the option to get driving directions.

If I ask the question “Where am I?” a map quickly appears with a small blue dot pinpointing my location at the corner of Second Street and Route 6 in Wyalusing.

Tech experts are pointing out how this software is still in its infancy. There’s no telling what sort of things in our lives we’ll be able to manage someday by simply speaking into our phones. Rumor has it that Apple will soon debut a TV that can be controlled with the sound of your voice.

Of course there’s potentially a dark side to Siri’s capabilities, too, that could become more plausible as we come to rely on this sort of software to help us do an increasing long list of complex things.   Remember Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a computer named HAL that controls every aspect of a spaceship goes bonkers?

“Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?” HAL says to the astronaut shutting the computer down.

“Dave, I really think I’m entitled to an answer to that question.”

By the way, I found those quotes after I asked Siri for information about Kubrick’s film and she took me to a YouTube clip of the movie. Stay tuned.



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