The recent commercials from Apple illustrating its newest toy, Siri, make me unsure if I want to laugh or cry. To laugh, because I am sure that the concept behind these commercials is to enlighten us as to the many facets of advice Siri can provide, even going as far as showing us its ability to be humorous. Unfortunately, these same commercials also make me want to cry since they make us aware of just how out of touch we are becoming with our fellow man. You see this, over and over again, as commercials tout the ever-growing relationship that man is forging with the machines that they rely on and that could someday remove the need for human contact. Just think of it: a machine that interacts with you on an almost conversational level. Will this provide another excuse for the introverted among us who already struggle with interpersonal relationships to avoid dealing with the real world? Though I seriously doubt that this is Apple’s intent, it is still something that we should ponder in light of our children’s obvious reliance on technology at home, at school, and even at church.
While much of this technology is beneficial and offers a much more reliable means of performing tasks that were previously time consuming and mundane — such as answering the phone — I wonder about the wisdom of turning yet more control over to a computer. To date, Apple has been using actors and actresses to tout the many benefits and words of enlightenment that Siri is able to provide to the masses, but it is possible that at some point the machine will be making its own bid for dominance instead of leaving it in the hands of humans. I wonder if that means that we humans will stop contemplating the complex issues that surround us.
One such not-so-complex issue was featured in one of the Apple iPhone 4S commercials where actress Zooey Deschanel asks her iPhone via Siri if it is raining. The unfortunate fact is that she is standing near a window that is being pelted with and streaked by raindrops. After this inane question, she then looks around what appears to be the living room and instructs Siri to remind her, the next day, to clean up the obvious jumbled assortment of materials lying around. In other words, if one cannot see that it is raining outside or compute that a mess needs to be cleaned up, I would venture a guess that this is the type of person who needs to pay particular attention to the instructions for using a seat belt that are given when flying.
In yet another commercial, actor Samuel L. Jackson is talking to his Apple iPhone 4S when he inquires how many ounces there are in a cup. Surely you jest! This type of information is taught in grade school and should be known by most everyone in the United States where it is the general standard for measurement. (I do realize that a person born and educated elsewhere may have need of assistance in this department.) The next bit of assistance occurs when the actor tells Siri to cancel his scheduled golf game. Here one is to assume that Siri is going to call the golf course, his caddy, and other players to notify them of the cancellation. If Siri is truly able to perform all of these tasks without dropping the ball somewhere, it would be great. However, from what I have been reading about the abilities of Siri, I would be highly doubtful that this automated system would be able to accomplish all of this — no matter how smart we are told that it is.
In yet another commercial, Apple employs the talents of actor John Malkovich. I find this particular commercial both humorous and scary. I say this because the commercial starts with the actor uttering the single word “life.” To this word, Siri responds with a rather long explanation concluding how well we should treat people. This part becomes kind of scary when we consider that we are basically accepting the idea that a machine is smarter than we are, when in actuality it is merely parroting the interpretation of someone else’s thoughts. My interpretation of what l believe life is does not come close to what Siri provides.
So while I have shown how Siri appears to be the next step in machine versus human interaction, it is not only the use of Siri that I believe is isolating us from human contact. This is just another building block on top of social networking sites like Facebook that allow us to share our daily activities with people we have never met. I know I had to trim down my friends list because I was being overwhelmed with underwhelming information from people I didn’t even know. Couple this with our newfound ability to communicate with one another using text messages and we find that we no longer need to hear the other person’s voice to inquire how their life is going on planet Earth.
Unfortunately, our alienation from human contact and our reliance on features such as what Siri offers could further complicate our lives instead of making them simpler. This could begin with our accepting what Apple is trying to sell — that Siri is like a friend. I can see our children buying into this, but I can also see how it would cause them to lose the ability to separate fact from fiction. The fact is that Siri is a just powered by a microchip that employs a large database of information that has been preprogrammed to answer a variety of questions to which you may or may not know the answer. Again, getting answers is great, but what about the many individuals out there who live by themselves and may choose to actually make Siri their friend and confidant? How lonely that life would be. Think about it: Siri isn’t going to go out for pizza with you. In turn, this makes me wonder what Freud would think of all of this if he were still alive. Would he be using Siri, posting his entire life’s activities on Facebook, and texting his associates for advice on those hard to solve cases? Would Dr. Freud consider all of this normal and all of us who use this technology for communication normal as well?
But what is normal?
Comments, as always, are welcome.
CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by ppalmer21