Siri: Almost Useful

Siri, running in iPhone 4S
Siri in iPhone 4S

I have been testing out Siri, the new “artificially intelligent” personal assistant of Apple iPhone 4S for today, after I got hold of the handset in the morning. Here in Finland at least Siri falls into that irritating middle category of apps/services that obviously show so much promise that you’d love to use them, yet fail so often that it mostly makes no practical sense. The two main problems over here are language and location issues: as Siri currently only agrees to understand (US) English, it is rather difficult to ask it to carry out even simple tasks in a context surrounded by Finnish personal and place names. Siri also does not accept questions of places or businesses outside of the US, making its most obvious use — asking for directions while on the go — here totally irrelevant. Yet, I managed to send out a couple of urgent text messages by asking Siri for it while on the run, but even there the street noises and messy/limited online access broke the process so many times that I could have achieved the same with much less hassle through keyboard. But: if you are really running from place to place, stopping to access a keyboard is not always an option.

Currently Siri is mostly good for fun, general knowledge demos in quiet indoor, solid WiFi conditions. But in the future it is more than likely that natural conversational agents will really become one of our major interface paradigms. Discussion style interactions are so convenient and convincing when they actually do manage to work.

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.

6 thoughts on “Siri: Almost Useful”

  1. I have to say I agree with what you’re saying. I’m not sure I am dissappointed because i wasn’t honestly expecting that much. It’s the upside of being a cynic =)

    However,I think it will become much better in time since I’m sure Apple is investing heavily in this technology. Before we know it Siri will speak Finnish!! I mean, “Siri” is a very very finnish name. Quite curious apple picked that name, don’t you think?

  2. I hope you are right. Regarding the Finnish speech recognition: I recently installed Dragon Dictation and it understands Finnish pretty well (http://itunes.apple.com/fi/app/dragon-dictation/id341446764?mt=8 ). But since it is not integrated to the iOS system functions the way Siri is, it unfortunately has much more limited utility. You can e.g. dictate a text message on the run, but the moment you should choose whom to sent the sms, you need to stop and do manual search for the recipient. But it is nice to see this tech evolving into useful directions.

  3. Neither – she/he/it is mute, as there is no Finnish voice or language version at all. 8-] -I am using the female/US version currently, as it seems to be best supported.

    1. So if I buy an iPhone 4S in Finland (I am moving there soon) will it be the US version by default?

      I’m moving to Helsinki for work, but as a non-Finnish speaker, English is best for me anyway. But I think I would prefer the USA female voice. Did you need to jail break it in anyway?

  4. You can enble it from the settings — but it is not that useful, as it keeps saying things like “Sorry Frans, but I cannot help you with locations in Finland…”

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