Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Laryngitis Aside, Why Siri Is a Voice to Be Reckoned With

Sure, she may be a bit flighty, and she only knows how to answer a few questions. But don’t let Siri’s youthful shortcomings fool you.

Apple’s personal assistant, which debuted on the iPhone 4S, shows the qualities one wants in an assistant. What she lacks in know-how and dependability, she makes up for by being whip-smart, a quick study and even a bit of a wiseass.

Google’s Andy Rubin may be publicly dismissive, but both Google and Microsoft also know that voice will be the key input method in the future — especially on the phone, with its touchscreen keyboards, even the best of which are still a pain today.

Siri already shows flashes of brilliance. While the assistant app only does a handful of tasks, one can ask those to be done in almost any construction and she will hammer away. Ask her the weather and she will tell you; ask how hot it is, or whether you need an umbrella or sunscreen, and she will tell you that as well.

It is only a matter of time before Apple expands her repertoire to handle more tasks. The company said as much during the announcement of Siri, saying she would be slapped with a beta tag until she finished her training and her foreign-language requirement.

In the meantime, Google and Microsoft are investing heavily in speech, as well. Microsoft spent a fair chunk of change buying Tellme a few years back, and has been working to make it a key component of Windows Phone and the Kinect, among other products. Google, meanwhile, has already built a series of “voice actions” into Android, and one can expect it to expand those efforts.

That said, Apple would be well-served to get its servers performing better. Siri has been frequently inaccessible since her launch. And while everyone likes a smart assistant, those who can’t reliably fetch coffee can find themselves quickly unemployed.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work