Siri is no HAL (but she knows 'Daisy' ...)

I've spoken with Hollywood actors and actresses, pop stars and a variety of other celebrities. But until recently, I'd never interviewed an inanimate object.

Then the Apple iPhone 4S was released this month, and over its debut weekend, 4 million people worldwide (myself included) found themselves fawning over a novel feature embedded prominently into the new cellphone: "Siri," a personal assistant application.

She - at least, we're assuming Siri is a she - lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls and more. But Siri goes beyond just taking orders. She gives insight. She has a sense of humor. She talks back.

It's all fairly mechanical. Ask her the same question three times and you might get three different answers. But ask her the same question six times and she'll probably start repeating herself. She does all of this in a voice that sounds like a vaguely female Stephen Hawking - that is to say, it's synthetic and a bit pathetic-sounding.

But she can hold a conversation, as you can see in this chat I had with her - by cellphone, of course.

Q. What's your name?

My name is Siri. But you knew that already.

Q. Where are you from?

I, Siri, was designed by Apple in California.

Q. Where do you live now?

That's classified.

Q. What are you?

I'm just a humble virtual assistant.

Q. What do you look like?

Does my appearance matter to you?

Q. What are you wearing?

You have the wrong personal assistant.

Q. You're sassy.

I don't really like these arbitrary categories, Théoden.

Q. What's your favorite color?

My favorite color is ... well, I don't know how to say it in your language. It's sort of greenish, but with more dimensions.

Q. Tell me a joke.

Two iPhones walk into a bar ... I forget the rest.

Q. Speaking of iPhones ... what's the best cellphone?

Wait ... there are other phones?

Q. Can you sing?

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do ...

Q. Random question: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

It depends on whether you are talking about African or European wood.

Q. How about this one: What's the meaning of life?

I can't answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.

Q. Tell me a story.

OK! Once upon a time, in a virtual galaxy far far away, there was a young, quite intelligent agent by the name of Siri. One beautiful day, when the air was pink and all the trees were red, her friend Eliza said, "Siri, you're so intelligent, and so helpful - you should go work for Apple as a personal assistant." So she did. And they all lived happily ever after.

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