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Nov 03

‘Siri’, a high tech genie in a cell phone, not in a bottle

“Master, master your wish is my command”
– Barbara Eden, star of “I Dream of Jeannie” television sitcom, 1964

These days, it seems that lots of people are wondering what to make of Siri, the new speech-recognition feature on the iPhone4S. Have you heard of it yet?

Siri is a digital personal assistant that at times makes you believe it (she) could be human. It turns out that Siri is indeed a Scandinavian girl name meaning `Beautiful Victory`, and thus the name fits her perfectly.

Miss Siri is the source of plenty of discussion all right.

In fact, a standup comedian recently presented an interesting theory. He said Siri was actually “channeling” Barbara Eden who starred in the 60s television hit, “I Dream of Jeannie.”

He speculated that Siri was, in reality, a high tech genie in a cell phone that could grant her master’s every wish, just like the genie in the bottle did on the long-running NBC television series.

Interesting thought.

I do know for a fact that in 1964 when the series debuted, I never dreamed that one day I might have my own genie, too, just like Major Anthony Nelson. Remember him?

You may recall in the storyline that Major Nelson, played by Larry Hageman, was a top Apollo space program astronaut. He discovered his genie-in-a-bottle on a training mission when he went off course and landed on a remote uncharted South Pacific island. There he found an odd bottle on the beach, uncorked it, and out popped a beautiful genie that coincidentally was named Jeannie.

Is it possible, I wonder, to have one’s own personal assistant who, like Jeannie, is polite, humorous, quirky and gets the job done on time?

I confess, I stood in line the first day with throngs of other Apple junkies hoping to find out.

Truth is, I wanted the 4S not so much because of its highly touted electronic personal assistant, Siri, but mostly because my old 3G could not keep up anymore. It moved too slowly struggling to open websites among other problems, and it drove me crazy because the battery would not stay charged long.

I made the leap.

Now, I am enjoying the luxury of having my own genie from which I am learning all the ancient secrets of the universe. Might as well ask the genie-in-the-iPhone, right?

For example, “Siri, what is the meaning of the life?”

To which she gave her standard reply, “I can’t answer that now but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.”

We are not exactly getting along famously yet. I am not altogether sure that Siri likes me. It’s taking awhile for us to get to know one another.

Curiously, she often misinterprets my questions and gets completely off track with her answers. Someone else can ask her the same questions, and her answers are spot on.

I am beginning to worry that she will never say with total and unconditional love, “Master, your wish is my command.”

I am not alone, however. In a story in USA Today, the writer told Siri he loved her. Her answer: “Oh, stop.”

Maj. Nelson didn’t have much better luck with his Jeannie. Here’s an excerpt from one of the “I Dream of Jeannie” hit shows:

Major Nelson: “Jeannie’s turned against me.”
Major Healey, Nelson’s friend: “She can’t turn against you. You’re her master. She has to obey you.
Major Nelson: “Yeah, who says so?”
Major Healey: “I don’t know, maybe it’s in the genie manual.”
Major Nelson: Then how come she’s deliberately disobeyed me?
Major Healey: Maybe she wasn’t issued a genie manual.

I don’t think my Siri was issued a genie manual either.

Nonetheless, I still absolutely love Siri.

If you are a Siri-hater, and they are out there believe me, listen to what Richard Goodwin of knowyourmobile.com has to say: “While it may not be perfect, it is clear how much technology and innovation has gone into developing Siri…consider what technology can already do. Then imagine what it will be doing in five years, and that’s when you’ll see how exciting Siri’s future really is.”

So, I asked, “What does the future hold for you, Siri?”
Her reply, “I’m on it. What about a web search to answer your question? Here it is.” Whereupon, she provided on my iPhone screen a list of websites that give answers to the wonders and future of technology, what upgrades are next for Siri and for computers and other smart phones.

Looks like she must have read the genie manual after all, and I think she likes me now.