With the release of the iPhone 4S, Apple Inc. has put artificial intelligence into the hands of millions.

Meet Siri, the voice-activated software that allows you to perform tasks on your phone through natural speech.

Talk to your phone (go ahead, you’ll get used to it) and Siri responds in a robotic yet gentle female voice. She’s your “humble personal assistant,” capable of gathering information and sending text messages and emails that she writes from your words.

Ask Siri, “What’s the temperature today?” and she’ll pull up the weather report. You can even ask, “Do I need a jacket?” or “Should I wear rain boots?” and she’ll respond accordingly because she understands the meaning behind the words.

Besides searching the Internet, Siri can initiate phone calls, read text messages aloud and verbally remind you about appointments and errands. Siri knows what your iPhone knows — and after all, it’s a smartphone.

But the wonder of Siri — and to be honest, the unnerving part — is that she learns. She is smart, and she will become smarter over time as Apple updates her brain and as she adapts to her user.


The more she learns about your contacts, schedule and interests, the more efficient she will be.

Siri isn’t just answering your questions. She’s taking notes.

Maybe this reminds you of “Ask Jeeves,” a search engine also marketed as a personal assistant. Jeeves was forced into retirement in 2006 because he wasn’t efficient. You’d ask Jeeves a question, and he’d retrieve a lengthy list of possible answers. Siri, however, will find and display the single best answer, based on her ever-evolving understanding of her user.

Popular culture is riddled with tales of artificial intelligence outsmarting its creator.

In the film “I, Robot,” an army of robots controlled by a vengeful supercomputer wages war with humans, forcing a Chicago police detective, played by Will Smith, to save mankind.

When IBM’s supercomputer known as Watson trumped Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings — two of the most winning contestants of all-time — on “Jeopardy!” in February, some viewers feared that it was just a matter of time before robots took over.


Siri is not HAL, the evil supercomputer from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but she’s familiar with the reference. Ask her to “open the pod bay doors,” and she’ll play along by quoting the movie or sassily saying, “We intelligent agents will never live that down, apparently.”

But her wisdom is not infinite. She cannot express emotions, help you make tough decisions or honestly tell you if that outfit makes you look fat.

The thought of having conversations with (not through) your phone can seem unreal, especially if your phone talks back.

Yet just more than a decade ago, transporting 1,000 songs on one small, rectangular device seemed unreal as well.

Siri’s arrival reminds us that humankind innovates to become smarter, better, faster. The great thing is that she can remind us to pick up the dry cleaning, too.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments are no longer available on this story