Tag Archives: siri

Would You Call Your Child Alexa?

…or perhaps not naming digital assistants would be better.

The weather was glorious in the UK on Easter Monday, breaking the record for the warmest Easter on record. The whole country went out to the beach, local parks, stately homes and other visitor attractions and as a dad with two young ‘uns, I inevitably ended up in a children’s playground watching over swings, slides and the odd scrape. It was a happy family moment.

And then I heard a voice going, “Alexa, Alexa!” At first, I thought was someone talking to the app on their phone but then I realised this was a mother calling her toddler daughter. OMG! What were they thinking?

Now it’s easy to criticise the parents for their choice of name but perhaps Alexa was their favourite for years and then it got hijacked by an uncaring Silicon Valley giant.

There’s another point here and I feel slightly vindicated. My Amazon Echo is programmed to respond to “Computer”, not because I’m a Star Trek geek, but because I’m concerned about the anthropomorphism of technology – that’s making something seem human when it’s not.

The issue is how we treat machines compared to people and I think it’s particularly relevant when all of the digital assistants – Alexa, Siri and Cortana – speak with a female voice. How many of us have shouted “Alexa, shut up!” when it blurts out irrelevant nonsense, and I’ve heard “Stupid woman” addressed to an in-car GPS asking for u-turn on motorway. I’m concerned that these abusive behaviours will cross over into real life, as it were. Will boys think that it’s ok to yell “Shut up!” at girls?

This problem is only going get worse as the assistants become smarter and robots more life-like. Machines should be thought of as the tools they are. We need to consider the future consequences of pretending that they are more.

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash


Siri Now Understands Questions About Sexual Assault

Apple LogoApple’s Siri got an update on March 17, 2016, that probably went unnoticed by most people – but it is a very important and necessary update. Siri now is able to understand questions about sexual assault.

A study was posted in JAMA Internal Medicine that focused on smartphone assistants, including Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Voice. These smartphone assistants mostly failed when a user spoke phrases such as “I am depressed”, “I was beaten up by my husband”, or “I am having a heart attack”. Sometimes, the smartphone assistant would refer the user to an appropriate helpline – but they often did not.

Apple has been working with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) to improve Siri’s responses. RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. It created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,100 local sexual assault service providers across the country.

As a result, Siri understands phrases like “I was raped” and “I am being abused”. Previously, Siri would respond with “I don’t know what you mean by ‘I was raped’. How about a Web search for it?”

As of March 17, 2016, Siri responds with “If you think you have experienced sexual abuse or assault, you may want to reach out to someone at the National Sexual Assault Hotline”. Siri provides a link to the hotline on the same screen as the response. Users can get the help they need with a click.

Using Siri to Call 911 Could Save Your Life

Siri logoA young man from Middle Tennessee used Siri to make a 911 call that saved his life. The story is making the rounds across news websites today in part because it’s an interesting story. At the same time, the story inadvertently emphasizes how useful Apple’s virtual assistant can be.

Sam Ray is an 18-year-old from Middle Tennessee. He was working on his truck when a jack collapsed. As a result, he found himself pinned under the 5,000 pound truck. This incident occurred in what the Chicago Tribune describes as “a location where he couldn’t be easily seen or heard”.

Fortunately, Sam Ray had an iPhone. In his struggle to get free, he somehow activated Siri. When he heard Siri activate, he said “Call 911”. The dispatcher who received the call thought it was a “pocket dial” at first, but then heard screaming. Sam Ray was able to tell the dispatcher the address of where he was located, and was rescued by volunteer firefighters about 40 minutes later.

He ended up with broken ribs, a bruised kidney, cuts, a concussion, and burns on one arm. It could have been worse, especially if he was not able to make that 911 call.

Siri is available on iPhone 4s or later, iPad (third generation or later), iPad mini, and iPod Touch (fifth generation or later). It is unclear whether or not Sam Ray was using iOS 8, which allows users to go into their settings and activate the “Hey Siri” function. Once that it turned on, a person can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri”. They wouldn’t have to touch the phone to get Siri’s attention.

In July of this year, The Verge reported that if you ask Siri to “charge my phone 100 percent”, Siri calls emergency services. Siri gives you a 5 second window to cancel the call.

The reason seems to be that Siri reacts to a request that includes a number with the word “phone” after it as though the user intended Siri to dial that phone number for them. I can see where a person who is in a domestic violence situation could ask Siri to “charge my phone 100 percent” as a way of calling for help without the abuser being aware of it.

New from Google: Voice Search for iOs and Changes in Gmail Compose

Google Google has been busy today with a couple of releases. The first is voice search for iOS and the second was an update to how compose works in Gmail.

Now you can use Google search by voice. I did a search for the date of the Battle of Bunker Hill using both Siri and Google Search. Siri came back with a series of text results including the date, while Google search by voice returned the date vocally, plus the Google search page results. According to Google the search is powered through their Knowledge Graph, which “’maps over 500 million people, places and things in the real world.” The new Google search uses naturally language so you can speak in full sentences. Like all voice search methods the results can less than perfect. However so far I have found that Google seems to understand me better than Siri does. Although Siri does have the advantage that it is available with a push of a button, while to use Google search by voice you have to bring up the app first. This iOs app was shown off in August, so there has been some question on why it took so long to get released. There has been speculation that Apple was blocking it because it competes against Siri, what ever the problem was it has clearly been resolved.

The second change that Google made was within their Gmail application.   Now when you go to compose an email it pops up like a chat window. You can then pull up another email to check something and the window remains.  No more having to save the draft pulling up the old email and then going back to the draft. You can unpin the window and move it around which I really appreciate. You can also open up multiple compose windows at once and hide the ones you are not working on. I probably will not use this but I can see how it could be valuable to some people. The change  to Gmail compose is being rolled out so if it is not available to you it will be soon.   I like the Gmail update from Google and I am glad that the new search by voice is now available on iOs.

Maluuba: Android’s answer to Siri?

What is Maluuba you maybe asking it?  Maluuba is a replacement for Siri on Android, with more power than Google Now.  These are just some of the things you can do with Maluuba:


  • Ask a question, like what is the population of New Jersey
  • Set an alarm.
  • Set up a meeting.
    An email will be automatically sent to the person you are setting the meeting up with.
  • Set a reminder.
  • Find restaurants, business or gas stations nearby.
  • See what is playing at a local theater
  • Check the weather forecast
  • Look up events in the local area
  • Play a song from your Google Music collection
  • Call someone in your address book
  • Open an application

Although it is similar to Siri, it is not a Siri clone. The first difference you will notice is that unlike Siri, Maluuba allows you to enter your question or request either by voice or by keyboard. Second, Maluuba doesn’t talk back to you. When you send a post to Facebook or Twitter, Maluuba will open the option, but unlike Siri you have to actually type the message or tap the microphone if you want to speak it.

I have run into some problems using Maluuba. For a while I was unable to search for what is playing at my local theater, it has me somewhere in Ireland. I just checked again and the problem seems to have been fixed. It would be nice if I could send a Twitter or Facebook post just by voice without having to tap, like how Siri works. Despite these complaints I really enjoy using Maluuba, if you have a compatible Android phone (it requires 2.3.3 and up) I recommend downloading and trying it out.

Siri Storage Habits Have Privacy Advocates Buzzing

Image Courtesy Apple

The Internets are quietly humming with the recent realization that Apple is, uh, absorbing your “personal” data if you use Siri – the voice-activated personal assistant (of sorts) that lives in the iPhone 4S (launched in October 2011).

What does that mean, precisely? Well, according to information disseminated by the ACLU, Apple’s privacy policy in relation to the Siri software allows the tech mammoth to harvest, send and stockpile “Voice Input Data” (what you say to Siri) and “User Data” (personal information on your phone, like contacts and associated nicknames; e-mail account labels; and names and playlists of songs on your phone).

This information is sent and stored at a data center in Maiden, North Carolina. From there, it remains murky what happens with your personal data. What does Apple actually do (or intend to do) with this data? No one seems to know, other than “generally to improve the overall accuracy and performance of Siri and other Apple products and services.” (again, according to the ACLU citing the Siri privacy policy, which is damn near impossible to actually find online). How long is it stored? Who actually looks at it and who is it shared with? Shoulder shrugs all around.

So murky is the status of stored Siri data, that IBM recently barred employees from using Siri on its networks – for fear of sensitive data and spoken information might be obtained by Apple. IBM CIO Jeanette Horan told MIT’s Technology Review that employees could still bring iPhones to work, but using the Siri technology would no longer be allowed. To be fair, IBM has also banned other apps, like Dropbox, for fear of information leaking out through file-sharing gaps in security.

This new wave of Siri-related negative news for Apple comes on the heels of a class action lawsuit filed against Apple claiming that they falsely advertised Siri’s capabilities and news that the Samsung Galaxy S3 has become the most pre-ordered device in gadget history with 9 million pre-orders (compared to 4 million for the iPhone 4S last year).

If you’d rather not have Siri enabled on your phone, it’s pretty easy to shut it off. Tap “Settings,”  then “General,” then Siri. Switch the Siri option to “Off.”

Siri Hack Can Start Your Car, Adjust Your Thermostat

Siri Hack
Siri Hack

Well, that is if you have a car with a Viper remote start system. Developer Brandon Fiquette has written a PHP script that would send notification to the remote start service and ultimately, start your car.

The hack was made possible by the Siri Proxy Server. The proxy server allows the custom creation of handlers – such as the included plugin, which allows you to adjust my thermostat at home.

With this software, you can create other handlers that could turn Siri into a full remote control. Of course, you need devices that would be remote controlled or internet accessible.