Once again Siri, Apple's voice control technology for the iPhone 4S, is in the news. Apparently some blogger asked it about abortions, and the system didn't pull up any results. Conclusion - IT MUST BE A CONSPIRACY:
I can't help but feel that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Straight to conspiracy theories. Do not pass go. Do no collect $200.
There's been a lot of idiotic nonsense written about Siri since the launch of the iPhone 4S. I'm not sure why. Maybe some people see Siri as a personification of Apple as a corporation or something, I don't know. Whatever the reason, Siri bashing has become a popular sport.
Now there are always a few people who have their tin foil hat on a little bit too tight, and who will instantly jump to conspiracy theories and wild accusations rather than think (it must be easier), but what staggers me is that tech pundits seem to lose the ability to think clearly in the face of nonsense.
Take this issue of Siri not pulling up results for abortions. When this story was picked up and reported by Jenna Wortham in the New York Times Bits blog, not a single mention is made of the fact that Siri is beta technology. In fact, Wortham only mentions this in the follow up piece after an Apple spokesperson points this out.
Siri is a beta. I've said it before, and it seems I have to say it again (and no doubt will have to keep saying it until it's no longer in beta).
The preliminary or testing stage of a software or hardware product; “a beta version”; “beta software”
I know that Google has eroded the meaning of the word beta by slapping it on everything to make technology seem cutting edge, but Apple here is using the word in the proper sense - Siri is unfinished. While I don't expect random bloggers to understand this, I would expect someone writing for the New York Times to both know this (you know, that thing called research) and to be able to explain to readers the implication of the technology being at this development stage.
Note: Some of you might be wondering why Apple released Siri in beta form in the first place. It's because technology like this is too big to tested internally. By releasing Siri in this beta form, Apple is learning how people are using it, and using that data to make the service better.
OK, so Siri is a beta. That's all the explanation needed for any and all odd behavior exhibited by the service at this stage.
But there's another issue here I want to touch on, and it's another one of those points where I'm left wondering whether people are trolling or just stupid. It's in relation to the expectation that people have of technology. Are we now living in a world where people expect to be able to throw a couple of words at technology (example 'abortion denver') and get a definitive answer to all our medical, financial, and legal questions? That seems highly optimistic (not to mention dangerous) to me. Siri's only been around for a few weeks, and increasingly I'm seeing people who seem to see it as some sort of substitute for thinking or common sense.
See what I mean about it being hard to tell whether people are trolling or just stupid.
Another point that I never made in relation to this or any other Siri omission was that there was nothing stopping people from firing up the Safari browser on their iPhone 4S and DOING A GOOGLE SEARCH FROM THE SEARCH BOX RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF THEM! It's not like Siri is the only interface between people and the information they want. I don't think Siri will ever be able to give everyone what they want based on a simple voice query. Siri doesn't take away from anyone's ability to go searching elsewhere for the information they want.
The world just isn't that simple.
[UPDATE: Apple CEO Tim Cook apologizes to Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, for the omission.]