I was having a conversation with my phone the other day that didn’t start out as well as I had hoped it would. Before I go any further, I’d like to make it clear that the conversation was with my phone, as in I was talking to my actual phone.
The phone has what is known as Siri, which is the chirpy name of the software that recognizes human speech and responds to questions. It’s also on my iPad, but I never use it there. For some reason it feels unnatural to talk to something larger than a cellphone. I may as well start having conversations with the other appliances if I’m going to do that, and my wife already has that covered just fine. Her dialogues tend to be more accusatory though, as in “Why won’t you work, you stupid piece of plastic?” The remote control will often stare at her in silence, since it doesn’t know how to talk. Soon, I suppose, talking remotes will become common and when they do, I’ll replace the one we have and not say anything to my wife. Won’t she be surprised when it finally answers her back.
When I got the phone and realized that I could talk to it, the first thing I did was compose an e-mail by voice. I thought to myself that this could be great because the keypad on an iPhone is about the size of a matchbook (remember matchbooks?) and my hands were not designed for such delicate work. If they were, I would be threading needles for a living.
So I set about composing my first dictated e-mail. When I was finished, I had the longest run-on sentence ever created by somebody who spoke either Esperanto or Klingon. It then occurred to me that I actually had to say “period” or “comma” to add punctuation, plus I had to modulate my speech better and enunciate with more clarity.
So I did.
Hi Mrs G comma new paragraph When do we need to check on that thing we talked about yesterday question mark We probably should confirm that period new paragraph Thanks exclamation point
Shockingly, it worked. Welcome to 2014, Rick. The future just began today. I was now imagining living in one of those space-age houses where I walk in the door and say “lights” and the lights pop on. I really am holding out hope that I’ll have a robot butler someday, one with a serving tray who can pull a piping hot cup of coffee out of its robot belly and place it on the tray before passing it to me.
So after my success at a vocal e-mail, I finally felt ready to use Siri for something other than asking her to tell me a joke. I held down the button and with two dulcet tones, she was there and ready to serve.
“Siri, call Best Buy,” I said.
“I don’t see Best Buy in your contacts,” she replied.
This made sense, sort of. I must have phrased the request so that Siri would search my contacts and I don’t have Best Buy in my contacts because, really, who does?
I needed to rephrase my question.
“Siri, look up the phone number for Best Buy,” I asked.
“I found this on the Internet,” she said. Apparently the GPS in the phone talked to Siri better than I did. I think they are in electronic cahoots. The way I figure it, soon after we have robot butlers, it’ll only be a few years before the whole system goes Terminator, but by then, I’ll probably welcome the new electronic overlords.
Siri had determined which Best Buy store was closest to me, which was impressive because it wasn’t closest to my house—it was closest to me. In my car. Where I was parked during the call. That was amazing, but I didn’t want to push any buttons to make the call. I wanted the phone to do it, just like I saw on the TV commercial when that hipster asked for the nearest coffee shop and then joined up with other hipsters and they had coffee. Of course, they also paid for their coffee with their phones and then sat down and started taking pictures of themselves and chatting with each other via text message. I’m not even sure if they knew they were in the same room together until they saw their pictures on Instagram, but as I recall, Siri did everything.
I needed to rephrase my question. Again.
“Siri, I need the telephone number for the nearest Best Buy,” I said with the same clarity and diction as one of those valets on Downton Abbey.
“Here it is,” and there it was, in its own little box, asking me to confirm with a “yes” or a “no” that this was the number that I wanted to call. I simply said “yes” and the call went right through. I felt accomplished, as if I had suddenly mastered a new language—Sirispeak.
An automated device answered the call at Best Buy, and I was put on hold not only for the entire drive there, but while I parked the car and right up to saying thank you to the guy stationed at the front door who welcomed me to Best Buy.
“Can I help you?” a human voice on the phone finally asked as I walked through the store.
“Yes, please. Do you have a copy of Father of the Bride—the Steve Martin version—on DVD?” I asked from the DVD department.
“Let me check,” she said and put me on hold.
Meanwhile, I scanned the department looking for somebody who might be checking but that’s not how it’s done. Nobody ever physically walks over to check. They just ask their computer.
“Sorry, no, but you can order it online,” she said.
I thanked her, hung up the phone and stood there, suddenly aware that the security cameras were probably recording the dumbfounded look on my face. I was in the system, indelibly printed on the grid, looking as if I was trying to do trigonometry on my fingers.
So I went home and ordered the DVD online and with the $5.00 coupon, it will be shipped to my front door for less than eight bucks.
As I sat there watching the printer chug out the receipt, I realized that I may never set foot in a store ever again, or if I do, I’ll ask Siri first so that she can check to see if they have what I need. If they do and I don’t know how to get there, I’ll just tap the navigation button, tell the phone where I want to go, and it’ll guide me there with turn-by-turn directions. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
It certainly is a brave comma bold new world period
©Rick Garvia 2014. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.