by Dan Saul
Siri, the artificially intelligent speaking assistant that comes with the new Apple iPhone 4S, is certainly related to HAL, but we don’t yet know how. Siri has been making headlines since the iPhone 4S was launched, with many people saying that they find the software amusing and interesting.
Many people who have an iPhone 4S have been asking Siri utterly nonsensical questions – as could have been predicted had the details of Siri been leaked in advance. We certainly would if we had one.
“What’s the meaning of life?” is obviously a popular one, but there are many others that have been reported.
We won’t list them here (you are welcome to in the comments below), but what we will say is that where this technically comes from and where it is going.
Those of us of the slightly older generation immediately think of HAL 9000.
HAL was, of course, the famously creepy, controlling computer on board the space ship in the classic sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It would be a terribly sinister irony – and worthy of many thousands of words of conjecture dressed up as well informed analysis – if indeed the Siri and HAL were directly related.
Certainly they are “spiritually” related – they are both the result of human technological endeavour. But directly related?
One possible urban myth I think is highly plausible about HAL is that it was meant to represent IBM. The explanation for this was that the three letters in both acronyms were only one place away from each other.
And for Apple to directly use technology from IBM – the “Big Brother” it “smashed” in its gloriously over-the-top 1984 advertisement – would be, well, stupefying.
What is going on? What is the world coming to? Everything comes full circle. Again and again. But surely there are limits… aren’t there?
It’s probably off-topic anyway, not an important issue. (We’re just jealous and bored because we haven’t got an iPhone 4S to play with yet.)
What’s more important and interesting is… how well does Siri function?
Artificially intelligent assistants that are voice-control are – even today, even for all the computing power packed into an iPhone – still a major challenge.
The main reason is probably because each and every person is unique, has a unique way of speaking, and for computer programmers, that is simply not convenient.
We would be interested to hear from you if you have an iPhone 4S what you think of Siri. Or if you have knowledge of such software based on artificial intelligence.