People talking to other people on new and old cell phones is a part of everyday life in the 21st century, and at least some kind of etiquette has developed around the issue (even if not everybody follows it) but what about to the phone itself? The new iPhone 4S from Apple has ‘Siri’, a virtual assistant that sends text messages and so forth, and can be communicated with via human speech.
Talking to a virtual assistant can be very weird to overhear, particularly given that people have to ‘sound out’ punctuation marks. “How is he doing, question mark, how are you doing, question mark,” as Lehigh University assistant professor of journalism and communication Jeremy Littau from Bethlehem, Pa, notes. The iPhone responded to him with the synthesized female voice of ‘Siri’. Unsurprisingly, those who overheard the exchange gawked. “It’s not normal behavior to have people having a conversation with a phone on the street,” Littau observes.
What is worse is that, as of yet, there are no official rules for such conversations on, for example, public transport systems. Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole admits that its ‘“quiet car’ policy, which applies to the use of voice with cell phones, does technically only ban ‘phone calls’, not conversing with the machine itself. “We may have to adjust the language if it becomes a problem,” he acknowledges.
While such technology has been around for a while, Siri is a step forward. ‘She’ even has a personality. If asked the meaning of life, she responds, “I find it odd you would ask this of an inanimate object”.