Heart of Stone

Does SIRI have a heart of stone?

It struck me today after watching Youtube videos about SIRI, Apple’s new iPhone 4S digital assistant, that the thing most people want to do with SIRI is test her/his emotional boundaries.

The majority of the clips star male tech fans proudly brandishing newly received iPhones with the programmed female voice*. Typically they start by asking a few practical questions like “Can you find me a Thai restaurant?” or “Send an email” but it almost inevitably goes straight to the heart by question 3. Questions like “Do you get a warm feeling when you think of me?” or the more direct “Do you love me?” SIRI brushes these advances off with a non-plussed and cool “Let’s get back to work”.

In the British version, as shown in this clip from the BBC, a tech journalist is interfacing with a male-voice SIRI (the U.S and U.K have different default genders) and again, goes straight for the heart. He asks SIRI where to take a girl on a first date. Hinting at how this relationship with SIRI is sure to evolve in coming months, the journalist unsatisfied with the answer SIRI gives, then assumes SIRI must be “jealous.”

We’ve long since viewed our phones as being conscious rather than inert objects or at least possessing some sort of “tech life force”. Think of how many times you’ve heard people say, “ Let me kill my phone” or “My phone died.” Now, with the introduction of SIRI , mobiles are further infused with a new breath or life force, one that engages with users more actively and intelligently than before.

The last frontier of course, is the one that all the SIRI Youtube videos hint at: does SIRI possess emotions? Can SIRI know how I feel? This will undoubtedly be part of future-version releases, a SIRI that can monitor the affect levels in your voice and then subtly recommend a movie to lift your spirits…

* The fact that SIRI is programmed with a female voice is a topic for another blog post as it presents a fascinating number of very deep and interesting questions and issues.

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