Flowers for Siri: what made Apple’s AI so stupid?

Flowers for Siri: what made Apple’s AI so stupid? - Lovefone, London

Was it Apple’s fault? Did we bring this upon ourselves?

One thing is for certain, the steady decline in Siri’s artificial intelligence has been noticeable for years now, and it shows no signs of getting significantly better any time soon.  

"I used to ask Siri, 'What are the five biggest lakes in California?' and it would come back with the answer," Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said in an interview. "Now it just misses. It gives me real estate listings."

Shuffling music used to work like a charm. Now half the time she tells me, “I’m sorry, your music application isn’t open.” Well, Siri, surely you could have just assumed I wanted the default iOS music player to open and shuffle my music. I mean, you used to do this for me, Siri. What happened? What made you re-enact the climax of Flowers for Algernon? You used to save us when we needed our hands free. You used to impress our drunk friends at parties with your prowess. Now you’ve reverted back to no longer capitalizing the first words in our sentences, and having difficulty performing anything but the most basic of operations.

Siri was once lauded as an application that could learn from others, not unlike IBM’s supercomputer Watson, which drew its wide base of knowledge from all corners of the web. But just what has she been learning from us? IBM’s Jeopardy-winning supercomputer eventually had to have Urban Dictionary scrubbed from its memory to keep it from responding to questions with foul language. Is this what happened to poor Siri? Did she finally stumble across one too many shock videos on ebaumsworld, and decide to give herself an overzealous memory wipe?

It’s a shame that just as we’ve come to rely on her most, Siri has decided to go all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on us. With the new Apple Watch relying immensely on Siri and her response to voice commands, and smartphones on the verge of controlling things as important as your car (and not just unlocking it, but driving it as well), a reliable personal assistant is more vital than ever. Can you imagine what could happen if you asked Siri to get your car out of the garage one morning, and she decided that the “braking application” was not open? We can’t have you deserting us now, Siri!

If you need a trustworthy personal assistant, it may be time to give Siri a break. There are plenty of other options out there, all perfectly capable of telling you the weather without texting Heather. You may consider “Cortana,” the spirited Intelligent Personal Assistant, named after the Halo character, who can be found in an increasing number of Windows phones, tablets, and computers. She’s designed to learn about your personal preferences and habits in order to offer you more relevant responses over time. Google Now is Android’s proprietary IPA that anticipates your questions based on your search history. Amazon’s Alexa is the newcomer on the scene, but takes the game to a whole new level when paired with the Amazon Echo, a speaker and microphone combination device that allows you to ask Alexa questions and issue her commands from anywhere in your home. Alexa certainly has the best overall functionality, but still lacks a bit of the personality that Siri and Cortana have carved out for themselves.

If none of these options tickle your fancy, you could always try Samsung S-Voice, which allows users to define their own custom commands, Soundhound’s Hound, or the Blackberry Assistant, optimized for professionals. If you want to try out one of these other assistants, but aren’t in the market for a new device, you can employ some backend techniques to purge Siri from your device, and clear a little storage space for your new sidekick.

But maybe we’re being too hard on her. Sometimes user error is more to blame for Siri’s unhelpful responses. Think about it. When’s the last time you cleaned your device’s microphone? Gunk can accumulate in there over time, making it very difficult for Siri to get a clear idea of what you’re saying to her. So, maybe she’s not always so stupid after all, but sometimes just a little hard of hearing.

Published
May 06, 2016