eXtensions - Tuesday 18 April 2017

Cassandra: Siri Phones Home, but Alexa Fails to see the Light

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


I heard a nice little story about the problems that AI and personal assistants can cause. This is an Alexa story, but it might apply to any device that links human speech to device operations. I use Siri from time to time but unless I am giving simple commands, this is not always successful for me. Whether it is my accent, my location or just the way I speak, there are fewer hits than misses; and this also applies to the voice-recognition feature in Clips with the captioning.

Speech While Siri is not perfect with me, I have seen it working too well when someone from Apple was demonstrating the iPhone 7 and included Siri as part of the presentation. She gave some examples and then said, "If I were to say, hey Siri, phone Mother. . ." There was a pause and then she cried, "No, no" as Siri started to make the call.

A teacher whom I know was working in his new England cabin and there was a problem with water pipes to the wood-burning furnace. It needed a lot of cleaning up and he made some time for the task. In the cabin, was an Alexa-capable device, but although it was plugged in, it was not switched on. Or so he thought.

Struggling at the back of the furnace, he called out to his wife, "I could do with a lamp behind here. . ." Alexa commented, "Have you considered the Black & Decker three and a half inch clamp. We have one in stock and can deliver. . . " The plug was pulled, but we were reminded of the excitement of driverless cars that are expected to ship with AI and voice activations: Left is a verb and an adjective (and a noun in some cases); Right is the same.

What if a conversation on the right thing to do, left you not knowing if you should stop talking or just go ahead?

Can we have some more light in here? . . .

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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