Digital Companionship

Apple’s Siri, “Her,” and a bit of “I, Robot”


Recently, I chose to treat myself to a movie I’ve been eyeing for a while: Her. The plot revolves around a letter-writer who falls in love with his computer’s artificial intelligence as a way to cope with his divorce. A complicated story which pleases viewers with both laughs and the occasional tear. Provocative, if only for its “high horse” conclusion. However, Samantha — the AI’s self-proclaimed identity— interacts with the protagonist Theodore Twombly through a couple avenues. One I am most interested in is through his retro computerminal. A mere white and plastic monitor which he speaks to through a microphone that one surmises is located somewhere on the exterior. Initially, I was perplexed that he only had a monitor and no desktop to go with it, but it then hit me like a Doh! moment for Homer Simpson: his computer is an all-in-one. A concept and design, that with my limited knowledge, was popularized by Apple’s iMac.

You’d think UI/UX designers would have replaced loading bars by then…

This got me thinking, what if Apple developed its pseudo-intelligent digital assistant Siri for use on its computers with microphone inputs, such as their iMacs and Macbooks? “Well,” I thought, “I can’t be the first person to have thought of this.” and so I did a bit of digging. Lo and behold, Apple just recently filed a patent for this very purpose. What a perfect tool, if tuned more finely over this period of time, to be integrated into the desktop environment. Fire up Siri with a custom key combination, and ask her the current trading price of Tesla? Great! Designing an invitation and want help with directions, but you’re too much of a lard to open a browser tab? Awesome! Need help burying a body while playing Minecraft? Genius!

Yet, I wouldn’t quite like Siri to develop into a “real” person, with emotions and all that’s attached, at least at the moment. I’m content with human beings and am in no need to find companionship with bytes like Her’s Theodore Twombly (though I don’t blame him for doing so). Instead, a digital tool (assistant, if you will) with a breadth of tools for analyzing data and helping me with workflow would be a pleasure. If only Apple would release a Siri API in the near future, oh the possibilities.

A tool, yes, indeed just like the first generation robots from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. An artificial intelligence who behaves without feeling and can assist me in a wide variety of tasks without emotional interference and a possible uncanny valley side-effect.

Even if Apple doesn’t jump on this interesting opportunity, I’m sure Microsoft will with Cortana or perhaps another competitor. I’d just enjoy the shear novelty of talking with my computer, which harkens back to my days of talking to the computer as a kid. This time, though, I won’t be yelling at it to boot Doom without crashing, no, I’ll be complaining about why my for loop throws an error.