November 6, 2011

Now Your Phone Talks Back and Humors You

11-6-2011 Global:

ALEX JOHNSON, a freelance video producer in Indianapolis, has a self-esteem problem. Well, not really, but his new iPhone thinks he does.

“Why do I cry so much?” he asked it recently in jest.

“I don’t know,” it responded. “Frankly, I’ve wondered that myself.”

The funny (if slightly unsettling) reply was courtesy of Siri, the new virtual personal-assistant application for the recently released Apple iPhone 4S. Siri recognizes conversational speech and responds, helping with everything from scheduling a meeting to finding a therapist.

Siri also talks back. Owners of the new iPhone have been quick to ask it all kinds of odd questions, from the inane to the illicit. Looking for a place to hide a body? Siri provided Mr. Johnson with a list of metal foundries, dumps and swamps.

Yael Baker, a public relations and media consultant in New York, said that Siri allowed her to dictate text messages while driving and reminded her not to leave the house without keys or coffee. “I’m so in awe of Siri that I ask her to marry me every day, and her answers have varied from ‘That’s sweet but let’s just be friends,’ to ‘Thanks, Yael, but I’m just here to serve you,’ ” she said. “Sometimes I feel I have a true friend tucked away in my phone.”

Lighthearted statements like Ms. Baker’s are easy to dismiss as hyperbole. But perhaps there’s more to it. In a New York Times Op-Ed article in September, Martin Lindstrom, a consumer advocate and branding consultant, described experiments he conducted in which magnetic resonance imaging found a flurry of brain activity, “which is associated with feelings of love and compassion,” when subjects heard their iPhones ring.

Siri is likely to deepen that bond, Mr. Lindstrom said in an interview. Experiments show that each sensory experience added to any interaction deepens the potential for emotional bonding. “We as human beings are incredibly good at trying to find human dimensions in anything in order to create a bond with it,” he said. People, he said, “try to find human relationships in every pattern that we see.”

Such emotional ties with technology have precedent. Mr. Lindstrom pointed to the craze in the late 1990s over Tamagotchi, a key-chain-size electronic “pet” created in Japan. Owners were responsible for feeding, disciplining and medicating their Tamagotchi, or the pet could become sick, starve and “sprout wings” (read: die) in a matter of hours.

Reports at the time documented deep attachments developing among their owners.

Obsessions notwithstanding, Siri’s novelty and sense of humor are creating plenty of followers and Web sites for them. Marriage propositions like Ms. Baker’s are apparently common.

For others, the enthusiasm is a more measured. “It’s better than many of my relationships, despite the fact she’s always telling me what to do,” Mr. Johnson said. “I don’t understand why people keep asking her to marry them, though. It’s bad enough I had to sign up with AT&T for two more years.” ..Source.. by Austin Considine

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