I’ve heard it said that Apple likes the sizzle as much as the steak. I take that to mean that Apple likes products or features that demo well. That explains the product presentation keynotes where Apple trots out a few new features that look innovation but often fall into a state of apparent disrepair while the company figures out ways to make it better.
The perfect example of the sizzle is Siri, Apple’s talking digital personal assistant. Slowly, Apple is integrating Siri’s abilities into iOS and Watch, and it’s become a more accurate and useful assistant.
My significant other got his hands an Amazon Echo, a cylindrical device which connects to Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, Alexa. Think of it as an always-on device with speaks; a device which sits in the living room and waits for you to ask questions or give commands. Echo, or Alexa, can hear very well, thanks to more than half a dozen built-in microphones. It needs to be plugged in so there’s no worry about battery.
The device’s reason for living is to sell products like streaming music from Amazon but it has other useful functions like timer or alarm, playing of audio books, and more. The key here is Echo Alexa’s ability to hear and understand commands. It’s quite good, and another example of how our devices are taking on personalities and becoming both more personal and more functional.
Maybe one day we’ll look back on Siri as a watershed moment, either the one where we started being helped by personable robotic devices with useful functions, or the one which started the downfall of mankind (and, for what it’s worth, we’ve been doing a good job of the latter even with an invasion of talking robotic devices).
Alexa, Cortan, Google Now, Siri and others are different, yet oddly similar, and we’re beginning to see attempts by their makers to personalize the devices and service, to make it more friendly and acceptable to the masses, while still being more useful and not just limited to a handful of Ask Siri tricks.
How long before the refrigerator beeps and say, “Kate, you need to buy more eggs and milk.” Or, Siri interrupts you during a business meeting to say, “I see you haven’t purchased any tampons this month. Would you like me to order a package? Or, two?”
Can it be much longer before Siri is listening all the time, much like Amazon’s Echo Alexa does now? Will Siri be able to understand context when I raise my voice in anger or excitement, or know when I’m tired, or understand when my heartbeat increases because a hottie from the office next door stopped by for a visit?
We’re on the leading edge of a massive increase in devices which will communicate with us, and while I don’t think we’re in any danger now, the very likes of a personality based robotic device like Siri or Jibo, means we’ll need to figure out how to deal with devices who are intent on helping us, even when we don’t want or need their help.