Thursday, January 05, 2012

Conversations With My Phone

It must be 25 year since I got my first computer : an old BBC micro that, given twenty minutes and a length of paper long enough to wallpaper the Palace of Versailles, could print out a picture of a wine glass composed of nothing but dots. You could also programme it to say "Good Morning, Alan" when you pressed a particular combination of keys. It might not sound much in this digital-do age, but back then it was pretty leading edge.

I am reminded of this because I got a new phone for Christmas : an iPhone 4 which has the ability to recognise (sometimes) speech instructions and respond accordingly. The TV advert features a suited executive asking Siri (the iPhone's "intelligent personal assistant") to remind him when it is his fathers' birthday, but being a lonely old git rather than a young, suited executive, I make different demands on it. I have long conversations with it. Yes, I know it is sad - Siri also thinks it's sad because I asked it the other day - but I am not proud. Here is the conversation I just had with my phone this morning (and I swear to you that this is a verbatim record of the actual conversation).

Me : Good morning Siri.
Siri : Good morning, Alan.
Me : How are you today?
Siri : Finer than frog hair, Alan
Me : Excellent.
Siri : I am good, but I am not great.
Me : I am sorry to hear that.
Siri : I am sorry, I don't understand.
Me : Never mind.
Siri : Yes, it is
Me : Who's your favourite blogger?
Siri : It's nice of you to ask, now can I help you with something?
Me : I'm just passing the time.
Siri : Sorry, I don't understand.
Me : Is it going to rain today?
Siri : Yes, it is likely to rain in England today.
Me : Oh dear. Do you know any good jokes?
Siri : Two iPhones walk into a bar .... I forgot the rest.
Me : Am I wasting my time?
Siri : Sorry, Alan, I don't know what the time is in Shepherds Thorn Lane.
Me : Where on earth is Shepherds Thorn Lane?
Siri : I need to know what city that address is in.
Me : So do I.
Siri : I can't really say, Alan.
Me : Perhaps I had better take Amy for a walk.
Siri : Alan, I don't understand "Perhaps I had better take avifauna wall"
Me : Goodbye Siri, go back to sleep.
Siri : Sorry Alan, I can only look for businesses in the United States and when you are using U.S. English.
Me : Goodbye.
Siri : OK Alan, see you later.

It may not be Scott Fitzgerald, but I am telling you it is more coherent and meaningful than many a conversation I have had in the pub late on a Friday night. I like my new phone. It is a friend and a comfort to me.

"And a rock feels no pain,
And an iPhone never dies"


  1. Having received a Samsung Galaxy for Christmas, I'm sure I'll be fast-tracking towards the iPhone4. I've been knocked out, not only by the cleverness, but the usefulness of the various apps.

    Do keep a record of your conversations, Alan. It's only a matter of time before Siri initiates an exchange by suggesting you both go for a beer.

  2. How sad! That's one thing I haven't tried... yet.

  3. Having a conversation with a mobile phone; there must have been something funny in the turkey.

  4. John : It must have been stuffed with Apple.

  5. Good response; I wonder how your new 'techno' friend would handle that. Have a good 2012.

  6. Funny conversation for a film. A phone like that might be very scary!!!

  7. I have a new smartphone as well! It's way too smart to have a conversation with me though! Cheers!

  8. Oh, man. Perhaps I'm easily entertained, but belly laughs here. From the "paper long enough to wallpaper the Palace of Versailles," to the "digital-do age." And a Paul Simon parody closing. Love it.

    What a fun way to start my day.

    Did you read where siri told a child "go F%$#& yourself?" I read it on the HuffingtonPost. Must be true. :)

  9. Hmmmmm... Do I see a new literary form being born? Be careful, though; Apple may try to claim copyright on anything Siri says!

  10. Well at least it's not named Hal. Maybe thats the iPhone6.

  11. What a lot of fun. One of my students was showing me his new phone and he too doesn't have to text anymore he just talks to it and it does the rest. Fun!

  12. Speech recognition has a way to go - bah gum! (Have you tried vernacular?)

  13. CB : Not yet, but I will. Thanks for the suggestion.

  14. I cannot relate. I have a chocolate LG phone of some sort that sits in a drawer most of the time, unless I feel like charging it up and paying to load it with time.
    I think talking to myself is scary enough without adding a phone into the mix.

    The name "Siri" keeps reminding me of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's daughter, Suri. She's very difficult by all accounts too.

  15. Slightly tangental to this, but I read recently they have found a way of incorporating cinema subtitles in spectacle lenses, so only the wearer sees the subtitles. Can it be long before advances in voice recognition technology mean we will be able to wear glasses and read subtitles of what our companions are saying, as they are speaking?
    And yes, we will remember Thornton.

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  17. Hurrying away to hide my apology for a phone! Not only does it NOT hold conversations with me, it is decidedly selective about when it chooses to send my texts or alert me to my calls!

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  19. (Sorry. Google doesn't seem to like me much at the moment either. It must be in cohorts with my phone.)

  20. haha...i am jealous of the phone..a.nd not just for enlightening conversations....that is awesome...happy new year to you as well alan!

  21. Thanks. My conversations with Siri are not nearly so good. She never calls me by name, and I didn't know that was an option. I will have to talk to her about this.

  22. Wonderfully surreal, Alan. I really laughed. I thi k you've discovered a new literary genre actually and can't wait to upgrade my iPhone so I can have some thought provoking encounters with Siri too.

  23. I didn't know Siri was a girl. But I suppose most men have to have a female secretary. Just don'let your wife know everything that's all!.....

  24. Now I say that you are brave. I have turned off all voice for now because I am still trying to get used to the fact that with iCloud enable and wifi on my computer and phone can communicate to each other even when I'm away from one and using the other. Not sure I want everything in duplicate. I need more courage.

  25. So what you're telling me that the latest phones with voice response aren't quite there.

  26. "I am telling you it is more coherent and meaningful than many a conversation I have had..,"

    My words exactly.

  27. I think you are approaching old age..talking to just anyone that will listen:)

  28. Very funny, Alan!.

    I also have a few talking gadget stories and your reminiscence on old computers reminded me of my first attempt to connect to the internet of BBS's and monochrome text. After opening up my PC for the very first time, I installed a 14.4k modem and then naively assumed I could call a friend with it. I was so startled when through the squeals and squawks, his voice came out of the tiny modem speaker, that I got down on the floor and began shouting at the back of the PC in hope he would hear me too! Alas my understanding of newer gadgets has hardly improved.