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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Things are getting Siri-ous

Personal-assistant app's interactivity can deepen the bond between user and technology
The Straits Times - November 8, 2011
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Things are getting Siri-ous With its ability to respond to conversational speech, Siri in Apple\'s iPhone 4S can add to the sensory experience of its user and deepen the potential for emotional bonding. -- PHOTOS: ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York - Mr Alex Johnson, a freelance video producer in Indianapolis, has a self- esteem problem. Well, not really, but his new iPhone thinks he does.

'Why do I cry so much?' he asked it recently in jest.

'I don't know,' it responded. 'Frankly, I've wondered that myself.'

The funny, if unsettling, reply was courtesy of Siri, the new virtual personal-assistant application for the recently released Apple iPhone 4S.

Siri recognises conversational speech and responds, helping with everything from scheduling a meeting to finding a therapist.

Siri also talks back. Owners of the new iPhone have been quick to ask it all kinds of odd questions, from the inane to the illicit.

Looking for a place to hide a body? Siri provided Mr Johnson with a list of metal foundries, dumps and swamps.

Ms Yael Baker, a public relations and media consultant in New York, said that Siri allowed her to dictate text messages while driving and reminded her not to leave the house without keys or coffee.

'I'm so in awe of Siri that I ask her to marry me every day, and her answers have varied from 'That's sweet but let's just be friends' to 'Thanks, Yael, but I'm just here to serve you',' she said. 'Sometimes I feel I have a true friend tucked away in my phone.'

Lighthearted statements such as hers are easy to dismiss as hyperbole. But perhaps there is more to it.

In a New York Times Op-Ed article in September, Mr Martin Lindstrom, a consumer advocate and branding consultant, described experiments he conducted in which magnetic resonance imaging found a flurry of brain activity, 'which is associated with feelings of love and compassion', when subjects heard their iPhones ring.

Siri is likely to deepen that bond, he said in an interview. Experiments show that each sensory experience added to any interaction deepens the potential for emotional bonding.

'We as human beings are incredibly good at trying to find human dimensions in anything in order to create a bond with it,' he said. People, he said, 'try to find human relationships in every pattern that we see'.

Such emotional ties with technology have precedent.

He pointed to the craze in the late 1990s over Tamagotchi, a keychain-size electronic 'pet' created in Japan. Owners were responsible for feeding, disciplining and medicating their Tamagotchi or the pet could become sick, starve and 'sprout wings' (read: die) in hours.

Reports at the time documented deep attachments developing among their owners.

Obsessions notwithstanding, Siri's novelty and sense of humour are creating plenty of followers and websites for them. Marriage propositions such as Ms Baker's are apparently common.

For others, the enthusiasm is more measured.

'It's better than many of my relationships, despite the fact she's always telling me what to do,' Mr Johnson said. 'I don't understand why people keep asking her to marry them, though.

'It's bad enough I had to sign up with AT&T for two more years.'



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