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Apple And The Talking Box Fantasy

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Magic is a wonderful thing. We humans use magical thoughts to romanticize products, people, politics, and, well humanity. But reality isn’t waving a magic wand to make something happen the way we dream it could or should be. In fact, reality can be painful at times.

Just ask the charter members of the technorati elite politburo who called Apple’s Watch a dud while declaring Amazon’s Echo with Alexa (the always on, always listening voice powered assistant the latest technology success. Watch sells more at higher prices in a competitive market and that equals fail. While Amazon sells a box that doesn’t do much more than Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant, and that equals success.

Sorry, Amazon is selling a talking box fantasy.

Talk To Me, Baby

Right up front, let me state that I agree with colleague Barbara Marie Brannan’s missive on The Future Of Siri And Her Friends.

Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung et al have given us some very stupid AI held captive in devices that just don’t do all that much beyond a few tricks on videos.

Tell me what you really think, Ms. Brannan.

Amazon has been waving a magic wand in front of the Technology Writer’s League so often they believe anything and everything Jeff Bezos says as if he was Steve Jobs reincarnated but with less hair and a creepy smile.

Article after article praises Amazon and Echo and details every nuance of these little devices which listen and talk back. I get that from co-workers. Except for the listening part. Amazon sells a big tall Echo with Alexa, a smaller Echo with Alexa, a camera-based Echo Look which not only listens but watches you while you dress, and now has a diminutive Echo Show which features a camera, touchscreen, and Alexa inside.

Forget the tech press hype, ignore the colorful videos, close your eyes to the laundry list of tricks that Alexa can perform and compare the basics with what we have already. Siri.

Apple’s talking and listening digital voice assistant sits inside about 1-billion or so boxes which we call iPhone or iPad (and, now, the Mac). Ask Siri a few questions, and get a few fewer answers. Give Siri commands and she or he responds. Most of the time. Unlike Echo, Siri isn’t tethered to the nearest electric outlet or Wi-Fi connection. Siri is a babe with legs. Much of what Amazon’s Echo and Alexa devices can do, Siri can do, too.

What should be noted but is seldom mentioned in technology circles and comparisons is that Alexa can do some things Siri cannot. Echo devices have multiple microphones and distinguishes voices better in a noisy room. Siri does not. But Siri can give me driving directions while sitting next to me in the car, so there’s that. Both Siri and Echo/Alexa can turn on or turn off various home appliances and devices. Both can read news, give sports scores, and voice weather reports. They are not created equal, but both– Siri and iPhone, Echo and Alexa– are more talking box fantasies waiting to grow up, mature, and help humankind than anything else.

Yet Another Assistant

This week I installed Google’s new Assistant app for iOS on my iPhone. It’s a free app. Try it. You’ll like it. But you won’t use it much, and probably not as much as Siri which you don’t use much now, either. Like Alexa, Google Assistant is a smooth talking, almost human-like voice which listens, accepts and responds to queries, and in the right environment, perform some actions.

True, Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, and even Google’s Assistant are improvements over Siri, which started life years ago and needs more iOS and macOS integration and capabilities to remain competitive, but advancement is moving at a snail’s pace from what we want.

We all know what we want. An anatomically correct robot which is indistinguishable from a human, but perhaps better at voting and remembering what politicians say. Until that happens, Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant (that company just can’t come up with a human-like name) and all their bot-like friends are not very smart.

For now, we’re being sold a bill of goods, a talking fantasy of the far future, a talking pig in a digital poke. Waving a wand, talking some smack magic, and selling more boxes that don’t do much more than the box I carry in my pocket won’t bring the future to us any faster.

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