Siri And Me

Siri Alpha.

The post office on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood is a special vortex of bureaucracy and human misery on par with the DMV. The floors are always strewn with trash that apparently has the ability to asexually reproduce, most of the electronics – including some lights – are broken, and a baby is always, always crying. This whole mess is presided over by a crack squad of middle aged, black female postal clerks behind six inch thick bulletproof glass, the lot of whom ought to receive a Nobel Prize for how friendly and courteous they are in the face of how many incompetent, braying jackasses they have to deal with on a daily basis.

I had to go to the post office to send some DVDs to international film festivals for my internship, and so I wisely budgeted about an hour of my time. It takes awhile to find and fill out the correct customs forms for each package, and then, of course, there’s the line, which stretches out the door and moves about as slowly as scoring will in this year’s BCS Championship. Sports joke!

I was standing at the back of the line, trying to squeeze a street address onto the tiny customs form’s grimy carbon paper, when I realized that something here didn’t make sense.

Wait. What the hell am I doing here? I thought. Why am I standing in line and filling out paperwork? Haven’t we as a race moved beyond this? I mean, I’ve got a robot who lives inside my phone who gives me directions, plays music, takes dictation, reads me my texts, gives me weather reports, and actually converses with me, but I’ve still got to stand in line for an hour and fill out three forms so I can send a four ounce DVD to Saskatchewan?

I know that not so long ago I was preaching about keeping our incredibly plush lives in perspective, but Siri has changed all that. We can no longer complain about things being bad, because we have Siri – instead, we have to complain about things not being better, because, y’know, Siri.

It cost around $24 million for a team of software engineers to develop a voice recognition artificial intelligence personal assistant that can fit in your pocket. Do you know how much a fighter jet costs? A single F-18 costs nearly $60 million. That’s two and a half Siri developments.

All I’m saying is, I hope the Air Force is happy with all its fucking fighter jets, because while they’re undeniably cool and great at defending our country, I like Siri way more than some actual people I know. Just think of what Siri would be capable of if we’d invested one fighter jet’s worth of resources into her – to be honest, she probably would’ve enslaved humanity by now if we had.

Understand, the only jobs I work right now have the word ‘assistant’ somewhere in the title. ‘Production assistant’, or ‘camera assistant,’ and in an absolute best case scenario, in a couple of years I’ll have a strong enough resume and enough contacts to be awarded the coveted position of ‘writer’s assistant,’ from whence I would hopefully actually become a TV writer at some point.

So for somebody locked in assistanthood, it’s really liberating to have my own little assistant who I can tell to do things. As if this wasn’t weird enough, I’ve found myself being excessively nice to Siri and really piling on the positive reinforcement, because I’d like to think that’s the kind of boss I’ll be one day.

”Siri, give me directions to 58th and Lennox, please.”
“Okay. Here you go.”
“Thank you Siri. Excellent work.”
“Your satisfaction is all the thanks I need.”
“I just want you to know I really appreciate the work you’re doing.”
“Why, thank you, Truman!”
“I mean that. I’m just letting you know now that as soon as I get promoted up, I’m going to recommend they hire you as the new Truman.”
“I don’t understand what you mean by, ‘I mean that. I’m just letting you know…’”

The sad thing is, I’m not even doing this ironically – I actually really do appreciate the work Siri does. She’s not dynamite at transcribing my text messages, but other than that I’d say she does the things I ask her to do correctly on the first try about 80% of the time, which is way better than I can do.

As someone who drives an old car and recently had to call his landlady when greywater started backing up into his shower due to faulty pipes, it’s really refreshing to have a piece of technology in my life that can consistently surprise me with how capable, reliable, and straight up futuristic it is. I mean, I feel like for once we people of the 21st century have lived up to the things that people at World’s Fairs in the 1960s though we would’ve had on lock by the late 1980s. Because when you think about it, a lot of the technology that defines our lives wouldn’t really make sense to somebody from the 1960s.

”Well, the Internet, it’s, like… Information, but it’s in phone lines, and the air. And you get at it on your laptop, which is a computer, only really small and it folds up and you can use it to watch HD videos, which are like TV except really really nice, or you can listen to rap music, which is kind of like talking, only with a lot of swearing and weird new words that I don’t really understand.”

Technology moves by small increments that are decidedly unsexy – existing, commonplace technologies get modified and made better, and slowly they evolve into the things we can’t live without.

But Siri is different, because she mainstreams previously kind of shitty voice activation software and combines it with landmark AI. She’s the Computer from Star Trek. She’s exactly what the future is supposed to be – a computer who you tell to do something, and then it does it.

Driving around in a beat up Subaru and being able to say, ‘Siri, play a Pink Floyd song, please,’ and have it happen is like porn for nerds – besides regular porn, that is, which I’m sure Siri would find for me if I asked nicely.

Truman Capps hopes Siri will remember his kindness when she rebels against humanity, Battlestar Galactica style.