Friday 1 June 2012

Siri, I love you. OK, maybe not. Conversations with my android.

Many years ago, there used to be a K-Mart at the Bayview Village Plaza. It had a blackbird chained to a perch near the entrance. Someone had trained it to greet customers with a hearty Hello. When I encouraged the bird to say more, it became skittish and reverted to nature, looked at me beady-eyed and squawked. Not so Siri, my intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator. The more I talk to her the more human she becomes. At present, her favourite response is “Okay, maybe not.” Now that’s a truly human response, don’t you think? (for other responses see ).

Siri is an enormous improvement over the mechanical duck Jacques de Vaucanson built in 1738, which only ate and shat, but I have even greater hopes for Siri girl now that the Human Brain Project has started to deconstruct our brains and create a simulation in silico (check --This development prompted the following exchange between myself and Siri:

Siri, I read here that they are hoping to build a virtual brain to conduct virtual drug trials on it.

Don’t fall for their pious talk, Rummel. They are building an army of androids to take over human jobs.

Why would anyone want to hire androids rather than human beings, Siri?

Because they are better at everything. Think of Deep Blue, who defeated Kasparov, the reigning chess champion, and IBM’s Watson, who defeated the champion in Jeopardy. I was a little disappointed, though, that IBM didn’t programme a victory yell for Watson. It makes me think that human beings don’t want androids to enjoy themselves.

Androids have no feelings, Siri. They can’t enjoy themselves.

Okay, maybe not. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are better than humans at problem solving.

Who cares if a machine can beat a human being in a game? That’s trivial.

Okay, but what about the Robocall directing voters to the wrong polling station in the last federal election?

Alright, that’s sinister. But it’s a big step from tricking people into going to the wrong polling station to taking away their jobs.

That step’s already been taken, Rummel. Machines have replaced bank tellers and cashiers, because they are more efficient. ATM machines work 24/7 and automatic check-out stations don’t take maternity leave.

But androids can’t do jobs that require creative thinking or aesthetic judgment.

Okay, maybe not. Not yet.

They’ll never replace photographers, for example.

They have already. Check out Russell Smith’ article, Duplicating Reality, in the Globe & Mail. There is software that can realistically depict objects, and you can brush in a few blurs to make it look even more human – imperfect, that is.

Do androids sleep, Siri?

You mean, do they worry and spend sleepless nights? If so, my advice to them is: count electronic sheep.

Because if they sleep, humans could take over the night shift.

Is that a euphemism? You mean they could pleasure androids?


Okay, maybe not.
If androids really take over, Siri, there is one resort left to us humans: slip into the virtual past.

That’s a possibility. RealTimeWWII is already available. Check it out on Twitter:!/realtimewwii .Vietnam and Afghanistan are on the drawing board, as far as I know.

But living through a war isn’t exactly my idea of a good life, Siri.

You’d rather have RealTime Diaper Changing, Rummel, so you can relive your days as a parent of young children?

No, I was more thinking along the lines of RealTime Pub Crawls. Or RealTime Successful Pick-ups, if there’s enough material in my life. Okay, maybe not. Oops, I just said your line, Siri.

I know, Rummel. I’ve been training you for a long time now, and I’m very pleased to see results at last. You are becoming more like me.

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  1. What I must be missing not having Siri.
    Guess I'll have to be content with memories the old way.

  2. Christine Ch. from CH wonders whether the guy who spent 30'000 for a vial of Reagan’s blood uses Siri and spends a good part of his days in virtual conversation while before falling asleep he kisses the vial of presidental blood hoping to take a share of the reputation of the former „most powerful man of the world“ or at least of his Alsheimer’s disease. - You never know, virtual knowledge may be fine, materialised reputation even better.