Apple’s Siri: Be less of a novelty and more like HAL 9000 – CNET

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Apple’s AI assistant Siri is 6 years old.

Oscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Dear Siri,

Next week, Apple is holding an event to most likely announce the next iPhone. Many people are hoping for a radical redesign, others are debating what the new phone will be called: iPhone Pro, Edition, X, or just 8? But my mind is on you, Siri. To quote Joey Tribbiani from “Friends”: How you doin’?

It’s been six years since you were released in beta. At that time, you were a cool novelty that I’d show off to friends at a bar. Over the years, you became faster and able to handle more tasks and queries. But as helpful as you try to be, you just aren’t that convenient. Neither are your fellow artificial intelligence assistants: Amazon Alexa, Samsung Bixby, Microsoft Cortana or Google Assistant.

Apple has already announced a couple nifty improvements for you that will come in iOS 11 like a more natural sounding voice and users being able to type out queries. But I’m hoping that you get more serious improvements like making your interface more consistent across devices and protecting my privacy while learning more about me.

Input, more input

I can ask you questions with a press of the home button or a simple “Hey Siri.” More and more, you give me the answer I’m looking for, but occasionally, I still get a list of search results that don’t exactly help.

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Siri’s list of commands and queries it can execute.

Apple

I like that you can automate smart appliances, adjust the temperature in my home, turn on lights and preheat the water in my shower. But these are still pretty remedial tasks that require a lot of setup on my part.

I bring all this up because you’re capable of being so much more useful, you just need more information about me and the ability to process it quickly. This means learning more about my behaviors, my situational context and more facts about me.

The way in which you notify me to leave my house early because of traffic points to a more helpful future. A future where you can predict and even deal with inconveniences before I am affected by them.

Some of that knowledge will come from being able to compare my behavior and situation with those of other people. And that quickly gets into privacy concerns, which I’ll go more into later.

In iOS 11, you’ll be able to learn a bit about me and my preferences in order to predict music I might like, recommend Apple News stories and predict Safari searches. These are baby steps, but important nonetheless.

Stay consistent

For you to become truly convenient, I need you to perform consistently no matter what device I access you from.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Dave looks at his reflection in one of HAL 9000’s cameras in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Getty Images

You need to be like HAL 9000 from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” (with less of the killing, obv). The astronauts in “2001” can access HAL from pretty much anywhere in their spaceship, exploration pods and spacesuits. There isn’t one HAL for the spaceship and another HAL for their space suits, each with its own unique set of commands.

I should be able to do the same with you whether I’m in my car, at work, at home watching TV or on the go. I shouldn’t feel like there are different Barbie doll versions of you: iPhone Siri, Mac Siri, AppleTV Siri and CarPlay Siri. I just want to feel like you’re the same Siri across all my devices and that you remember things about me no matter what device I’m on.

One interesting update coming in iOS 11 will be the ability for you to sync my information and preferences across my devices. It’s not exactly clear what information will be synced and if syncing will just be between iOS devices or across operating systems to include devices running MacOS, TVOS and WatchOS. Depending on how it works, this could be a step in the right direction.

Trust issues

Siri, I like that you protect my privacy. Yet, our relationship is all about balance. The more information I give you, the more helpful you can be. But the more information you have about me, the more at risk that information is.

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The Rock accesses his life goals list using Siri in an ad for Apple.

Apple

I need you to continue to protect my information and go beyond just encrypting it. I want you to actively defend it, identify potential threats and be proactive at stopping any breaches.

For example, my bank will call to tell me that an unauthorized purchase was attempted on my credit card and that they prevented it from happening. All this happens before I notice anything wrong with my account.

I want the same from you. The more people become reliant on using you, the more new threats there will be against you and the information you have access to. I need you to be like my bank and learn how those new threats work and prevent them from affecting me before I even notice.

Siri is here to stay

All the major AI assistants have their pluses and minuses with room to grow. But Siri, I have to admit, you are headed in the right direction, especially in iOS 11.

And on Tuesday, people will no doubt be a buzz about the latest “iPhone 8X Pro Edition”. I just hope that during the announcement Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior VP of software engineering, has a moment where he says, “We’ve got a few more things to show you about Siri.”

I am excited about all the ways you’ll be able to make my life more convenient in the future. I just want that future to be now.

Yours truly,

Patrick

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