I recall the point during the development of handheld electronics when electronic spellers first became available. Now these weren’t dictionaries; they didn’t have definitions or pronunciation guides. They just showed you how to spell words. They’re still out there, now that I look.
I can remember thinking “wow, what a dumb product. It’s possible to bring such a thing to market for a small amount of money, so they are. No one asked the question this answers.”
I try hard to cultivate a similar skepticism now, with all of the electronic offerings available to us. We’re being hit with so many choices, and so rapidly. I think sometimes it’s easy, and even natural, to forget to think about whether the choices are even ones we want to make. “Do I really want to do that? Or does someone with a financial interest in me thinking I want to do that want me to do that?”
When I figured out I could upload my entire music collection to the Amazon.com cloud, and then access it at my leisure on my phone without needing 75+ GB of local storage, that was cool. That fits the way I want to operate. When a song or album in my collection pops in my head and I want to hear it, two finger taps, and I’m hearing it. That rocks. Bring that.
Conversely, I saw a Siri commercial this week that invites me to think it’s indispensable, when it isn’t. Mr. Busy Guy is clipping along and says to his phone “what does my day look like?” Then Miss Aerobicized wants to know “will I need an umbrella in Boston this weekend?” or something.
Now I guess that may be superficially appealing, but pick at it a bit. Don’t we have extremely effective answers in hand for these questions already? How hard is it to check the Boston weather forecast? To look at your calendar? Am I to believe that Mr. Busy Guy is so unbelievably strapped that he hasn’t two spare seconds to click an icon and look at his schedule himself?
Think a bit further. Have you real confidence in the quality of these answers? The whole “talk to the computer” model, while a science fiction mainstay, really hasn’t taken off. It’s truer than ever that computers are only as smart as we make them.
So how good could Siri be? Can’t you kind of see the man behind the curtain, no matter what Siri comes up with? Can’t you correlate its results effortlessly with what you might have been able to get from a search engine yourself? Would that have really taken much longer? Do you have any problem getting exactly what you need from such a results list?
Are you getting something you want? Or something someone wants you to think you want?