Apple’s Siri and her many knockoffs: Sassy personality or bland impersonal machines?

“When users ask Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, what she likes to drink, she is quick with an answer,” Julia Love and Yasmeen Abutaleb report for Reuters. “‘I have a thirst for knowledge,’ she responds. Her counterpart at Microsoft, Cortana, opts for a very, very dry martini. But M, the digital assistant Facebook is testing, deflects the question. ‘I don’t have an opinion about that. What’s your favorite drink?’

“As the tech giants race to build ever better artificial intelligence platforms, they are obsessing over the nuances of their digital assistants’ personalities,” Love and Abutaleb report. “But companies are split on the best way to forge deep connections with users. Siri and Cortana are waging charm offensives, both quick to crack a joke or tell a story. Their elaborate personas are meant to keep users coming back. Facebook has built M with no gender, personality or voice. The design bears some resemblance to Google’s similarly impersonal assistant.

“For tech companies, the stakes are high, said Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, since digital assistants can guide users to their own products and those of their advertisers and partners – and away from those of competitors. Google’s digital assistant, for example, uses the company’s search engine to fulfill user requests for information rather than Yahoo or Microsoft’s Bing,” Love and Abutaleb report. “The Siri team concluded that personality was indispensable, said Gary Morgenthaler, an investor in Siri, the startup that created the eponymous assistant and was later acquired by Apple. ‘If you are emulating a human being,’ he said, ‘then you are halfway into a human type of interaction.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We prefer Siri, naturally, precisely because she has a personality. Any tradeoff for the certainty that someone somewhere will be “offended” about something Siri says jokingly is well worth having some humor as opposed to dealing with an impersonal automaton like Google’s privacy-invading and intrusive abomination Google Now.


  1. ‘I don’t have an opinion about that. What’s your favorite drink?

    Ask a humorous question of a robot and get a “Peeping Tom” question in return, how predictable of the Facebook, Google business model. Next, expect ads pushing your fav drink, and maybe in the background your insurance company gets a heads up?

  2. One of the lovely things about using Apple gear is the way that you get an unexpected smile from time to time.

    The first example I remember was when they introduced the crayon colour picker, which very subtly erased a pixel from the tip of a crayon when you selected it, meaning that a well used crayon ended up looking a little blunt.

  3. Interesting thought. Sounds like ‘M’ and Google are trying to take us back to the grey old days of the 50s, all work no play just drab docile automatons. Reminds me of Metropolis. I just hope that isn’t therefor a deliberate attempt to take away our personality by having none of their own, but in Google’s case you can see how that would be a money spinner for them.

    1. I’m all for fun but if you ask a question wanting some info and your personal assistant ‘plays’ with you instead with no option to actually get around that, it may be a bit annoying. Maybe allow it to ‘seriously’ search when you ask a second time or providing the info (when appropriate) after the ‘play’ response would be nice.

  4. Since Apple removed the audio prompt to let you know that Siri is “listening” I’ve used it (her?) far less. I use Siri on my Watch to set timers and start workouts and set occasional reminders, but it’s not nearly as useful as I thought it’d be by now when it launched back in 2011. Outside of very specific uses like the one’s I’ve mentioned, Siri is usually a waste of time because it’s not accurate, often wildly so.

  5. All of these efforts have made me wonder if Apple’s increasingly deep collaboration with IBM will lead to a “marriage” of Siri with Watson. This would make it the premier AI platform for a long time to come, and would be incredibly powerful and versatile.

    1. I’m not sure what the result will be like.. Watson takes data and ‘learns’ from it constantly growing with the acquired knowledge (usually in a specific field). Turning that to general human interaction may be interesting but may result in a bland ‘personality’ trying to be the mid-point of every human exchange it has done in the past. On the other hand it may end up being a ‘group’ personality of those interacting with it. Siri + Watson may become an emotional indicator of the general iOS user population. 😛

  6. Imagine being able to capture the voice and personality of anyone and applying it to a computer. There is actually a Queen Elizabeth II voice (approximation) that’s very fun. I’d enjoy creating them from a variety of amusing people.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.