We know what we want from artificial intelligence and home robots. No, nothing like what George Jetson had. How positively 1969. What we want is human intelligence in a human-like robot body; anatomically correct.
Instead, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung et al have given us some very stupid AI held captive in devices that just don’t do all that much beyond a few tricks on videos. No offense to Apple or the company’s many competitors; AI and so-called intelligent assistants with voice recognition– the technology must be complicated and difficult– but these things are as stupid as a door knob (functional, but don’t really do all that much yet).
Siri! Help Me! Siri?
To hear members of the technorati elite politburo tell it, artificial intelligence is all around us already. Well, maybe that’s true if you consider occupants of the White House and Congress. Otherwise, I don’t see much real intelligence baked into my iPhone, iPad, Mac, Watch or Apple TV, let alone all the competitors that supposedly are doing AI better than Apple.
My father hails from Texas and my mother from Florida and have their respective regional accents on their sleeves. I grew up in Nevada but have lived in San Francisco from college age on and Siri understands my blended speech patterns just fine thanks to my General American accent, whatever that is. Siri reads me well. But not mom and dad. I can only imagine the issues people from the deep South or East coast or Scotland have with Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and their ilk.
It’s one thing to understand what is spoken, but it’s something else to perform an appropriate action based upon a command, and these built-in AI voice bots still have trouble. All of them do a few tricks that the others do not, but all of them are, relatively speaking, quite stupid and don’t actually think as much as they respond. My parents have a dog and it can do more tricks than Siri, including some Siri just cannot.
- Fido, shut the door
- Fido, bring me my slippers
- Fido, roll over/sit up/sleep
- Fido, bring me the newspaper
- Fido, bark at the intruder
Fido isn’t so good at math, can’t read my iPhone’s calendar, can’t send an email or text, and there’s that whole ongoing cost thing with the vet and dog food, but added up I’m not sure that my parent’s dog might be less expensive.
In product marketing, differentiation is a key component for success. The iPhone was highly differentiated from competitors with a big screen and easy-to-use navigation system. Apps became a thing but not much has changed even since Siri came on the scene with iPhone 4s years ago. Siri can place a call from a voice command, but I had that same functionality on a Sony phone a couple of decades ago.
Yet, some differentiations are visible among Siri’s competitors, including Amazon which now has a voice activated Echo devices that listens to you all the time (nothing to go wrong there) and a camera Echo which can take snapshots of what you’re wearing (that’s actually creepy to certified adults, but who knows about a younger generation), and Echo Show which is like an iPad and FaceTime or Skype because it just sits there and acts like Alexa but with a built-in camera and a touchscreen. Amazon gets applause and kudos for a device that is priced $100 less than a new iPad which does at least $1,000 more.
All of these AI digital personal assistants are more digital than anything else that resembles an assistant. They’re not altogether personal because they cannot even recognize who is asking the question or issuing a command. They’re not much on assisting because in many cases it takes longer to repeat the request or query than it does to hit the touchscreen and do it the old fashioned way. With fingers. Siri is good at making calls for me on my iPhone but my Sony cell phone from the last century could do that.
We all know what we want. An anatomically correct robot which is indistinguishable from a human, but perhaps better at voting and remembering what politicians say. Until that happens, Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant (that company just can’t come up with a human-like name) and all their bot-like friends are not very smart.
We could use some revolutionary AI evolution and if Siri and her friends are the beginning then we have a long way to go.