Siri: Bonding Humans and Machines

// Posted by on 02/11/2013 (12:19 AM)

After reading the introduction to Mark Poster’s book “Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines” I immediately thought of one thing…Siri. In the introduction Poster tells a cute story of a little boy who made friends with a telephone operator that fed him information. Poster follows up the story by saying “Increasingly one retrieves information not from a person, such as a telephone switchboard operator, but from an information machine, especially from networked computers. And thus we are ever more normally brought into contact not with other humans directly but with information machines. ‘Information Please,’ as the post reminds us, was once a person; now it is a machine” (3). Surely we can agree with Poster as we are constantly faced with pre-recorded machines when call our doctors offices for example. But what now would Poster have to say about Siri, Apple’s new virtual personal-assistant application? Yes, Siri is a “machine” but some would argues she is much more than that. As quoted in the Huffington Post article, “This, after all, was no ordinary iPhone app, but the progeny of the largest artificial intelligence project in U.S. history: a Defense Department-funded undertaking that sought to build a virtual assistant that could reason and learn.” Siri operates in multiple languages and can do anything from send a text to research a question to make reservations or buy a ticket. But it is Siri’s sense of humor, I think, that perhaps gives her her most “human” quality. Siri, notorious for funny/witty remarks, has joked with her users about things such as weakness (ask it about gyms, for example, and Siri sends back a mocking, “Yeah, your grip feels weak.”) and their need for therapy. This kind of humorous reaction makes the interaction between the user and Siri appear to be more “real”, ultimately bonding humans and machines. “We’re moving more and more towards an interface like the interface we have with each other,” says Saffo, a technology forecaster and associate professor at Stanford University. “Our whole trend is toward ever more intimate interactions with machines [...] and with each phase, machines are doing something ever more central to our lives.” What do you think comes next?


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