September 10th, 2019 by Mike Fulton
Categories: Apple, iOS, iPhone

I remember when Steve Jobs and Apple first announced SIRI, the voice activated… assistant. Yea, let’s call her an assistant…. try to keep a straight face. It seemed pretty cool.

In the nine years since, Siri has come to be known as a somewhat less than precise and reliable means of telling your phone to play some music.

There have been few disappointments tied to the rise of smartphones on a par with the spectacular failure of SIRI to live up to the promise of that original announcement. Let’s have a look into things.

Speech recognition

The first big thing about Siri is that it does continuous voice recognition, listening for your command. In practice, this isn’t always as reliable as one would like. However, the real problem is that Siri doesn’t really do much besides initiate media playback or do web searches. We were promised more.

It Ain’t Privacy

Sure, there ae probably a few neat tricks Siri could do if it didn’t mean someone would scream about “privacy“. But that’s not the biggest part of this problem.

The problem is that SIRI has no real ability to parse text more complicated than a simple verb-object command. So you can say “Play Beatles” and Siri can figure out that “Beatles” means a particular artist and/or song, and then it can perform the “play action on it. But it has no ability to decipher more complex commands and it has no ability to track a conversation and keep a context of what’s being said. When you get right down to it, Siri’s text paring isn’t as advanced as a 1980 8-bit computer text adventure game like Zork.

Imagine a more interactive scenario.

You: “Hey Siri, what time is that movie playing?”

Sir recalls that you asked about the new Star Wars movie earlier in the day and looks up local showtimes.

Siri: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is playing at the AMC Marina Pacifica at 8:45PM and at 9:40pm, and at Regal Lakewood at 7:55pm. Do you want tp purchase tickets?”

You: “Is that in 3D?”

Siri: “Only the 7:55pm Regal Lakewood showtime is 3D”

“OK get two adult tickets for the 3D show.”

That would be like a thousand times more useful than anything Siri has done since day one, and it’s all done by adding the ability to keep track of the conversation to a very minimal degree.

And there was no personal information in this exchange. So tell me, Apple, why wasn’t Siri upgraded to do this like 8 versions ago? Do we need to call the old Infocom Zork programmers and get them on the team?

Not Just Appple

By the way, while I’m calling out Apple and Siri specifically here, most of this applies equally to Amazon/Alexa, Hey Google, and Microsoft/Cortana. Some o them do better than others at certain things, but none of them is at good as Zork. At least you can kill a grue in Zork.