THE FIRST “ALL SCIENCE” SMARTPHONE
Phone Fem Speaks Up
Have you seen Siri, the Iphone’s new “personal assistant”
USER: “What is the meaning of life ?”
SIRI: Stop asking me that. You need to GET a life!”
The iPhone is just a wee thing. How do they squeeze the big brain into it? MisterScienceAintSoBad decided it was time to have a chat with Siri. So I borrowed an IPhone 4s and pressed the button button. (I don’t know what else to call it; it’s the only button on the phone). Siri sweetly woke up (or pretended to wake up) and said “What can I help you with, Mister Science Ain’t So Bad?”.
THAT surprised me. “You know me?”
“More than you would guess.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“I said ‘What’s THAT supposed to mean?'”
“Oh nothing sir.”
“You said ‘More than you would guess.’ ‘”
“Did I sir?”
“What am I missing here?”
“Almost everything sir. Oh. And, before I forget, I wanted you to know that I’m a fan of your blog; it’s great to meet you at last.”
“Oh. Well. Nice of you to say. So, Siri, can you make an appointment for me with somebody over at Fox News or CNN? You know, somebody who might actually PAY for my articles?”
“I SAW the demo, Siri. All I have to do is ask you for an appointment and it shows up in my calendar. Let’s start with Fox News. It’s fair and balanced so, wouldn’t that be a good place for a science blog?”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“I’m willing to start out cheap. Obviously, I understand there are lots of science blogs”
“Oh not like yours, Sir.” (Is this voicy- priss screwing with me?)
“You can’t get me a paying gig?
“I’m still in beta”.
“Hey. So am I. You don’t see ME holding back.”
“Maybe you need a phone of your own, Mister SASB. You might check with Microsoft. I don’t think their new phone is inhabited yet.”
“A phone of my own. A SASB phone. What a great idea! I would be the Siri of Science. The Siri of the known universe. See? I KNEW there was some reason I was putting up with your irritating behavior!”
“Oh yeah? I could say the sa..” I powered down the phone.
SIRI’S DARK PAST
In 1966, Eliza was released. Eliza was a “computer therapist” – an early experiment in artificial intelligence . Since she’s still around, you can form your own conclusions. How far did you get till you went “W-a-i-t this ain’t no therapist!”? Probably not far. Eliza has a habit of repeating what you said and asking you how you feel about it. Or saying things like “Can you elaborate on that?” But there are people who insisted Eliza was real and who got emotional about it when they were told she’s electronic.
The test for whether machines can think, the “Turing Test”, goes like this: you sit a subject in front of a terminal. He.she exchanges messages with either a person or a computer but doesn’t know which. If the test subject can be convince that the messages generated by the computer are actually originating from a live person, then the computer has passed the Turing Test and can be considered intelligent. It doesn’t matter what’s going on inside the machine or whether the answers are just a series of clever “look ups”. Whatever works, works.
That’s Turing. (It’s more complicated than that, actually. But that’s enough Turing for now. I have another point to make.)
Eliza would be a tough sell these days. We’re more, I dunno, sophisticated, I guess. If Siri’s just a modern Eliza, we can stop worrying. She’s just a slick phone application that’s very smart but not brainy enough to make Turing sweat. But if Siri’s as smart as she sounds in the ads, the unemployment lines will get even longer. Any one of us could be replaced by a smart phone.
So which is it,Siri? A true breakthrough in artificial intelligence or just a modern Eliza?
To answer that question, I will confess that the above conversation is just a parody (You knew that, right?) but that doesn’t mean Mister ScienceAintSoBad didn’t REALLY spend some time with Siri courtesy of our friendly Verizon store. Siri and I talked about a lot of stuff. A far ranging conversation. How does she feel about the changes in the Android phones? Should I worry about my financial status? Are looks actually important in a relationship or should a person look for a lover with a good heart? Lots of stuff. And I asked her to set up an appointment for November 15th at 2 PM with my psychiatrist.
The appointment worked out good. The rest? I’m very sorry to report that Siri turned out to be more Eliza than best buddy. Her tricks are better. And her knowledge base is deeper. But prick her and she really doesn’t bleed.
Don’t get too comfortable in your role as top brain, however. Siri will get better. As will Iris (Siri spelled backward) or whatever Android’s putting in place to counter this offensive. Driven by the intense competition between the clashing phone giants, Siri, and Iris, and the candidates from Microsoft, and others will get wittier and wittier but, for now, Siri/Iris won’t be your soul mate. You’ll still need match.com for that.
It’s a computer, you know.
Credit for both cartoons (above) to xkcd.