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Siri And Cluzee Will Now Take Your Questions

Smart phones that talk. Apple’s Siri and Android’s Cluzee, in the studio to take your questions.

Siri on Apple's iPhone 4s (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Siri on Apple's iPhone 4s (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Machine voice recognition is nothing new. Make an airline reservation, call the pharmacy – you’ll likely be talking with a machine. But the new wave of voice recognition and response hitting smart phones right now is something else again.

“Siri,” on the new iPhone. “Iris” and “Cluzee” on Android. They talk. They listen. They joke. They seem to think. They tap the universe of online info to find what you need and voice it. And it’s all in your pocket, your hand. Like a new old friend.

This hour, On Point: the brave new world of smart phones that talk and listen and learn.

-Tom Ashbrook


Hiawatha Bray, tech reporter for the Boston Globe.

James Katz, chair, Department of Communication, Rutgers University.

Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.


Hiawatha Bray in the On Point studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Hiawatha Bray in the On Point studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

From Tom’s Reading List

Seattle Post-Intelligencer “A long time ago, I made a compact with Apple. “You can control my entire technological life, from my computer to my phone to my stereo. I’ll pay premium prices. I’ll dive into your product ecosystem, and buy books and music and movies and apps from you. Even though they won’t work on devices made by anybody else.””

Apple.com “Siri is the intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done just by asking. It allows you to use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. But Siri isn’t like traditional voice recognition software that requires you to remember keywords and speak specific commands. Siri understands your natural speech, and it asks you questions if it needs more information to complete a task.”

CNET “Android users looking to replicate the Siri experience have another option now, with the introduction of an app called Cluzee.”

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  • Drew You Too

    “Siri And Cluzee Will Now Take Your Questions”

    Good, I’d like to ask them both: “What is Carrier IQ?”. Please ask your guests about it as well Mr. Ashbrook. Thanks

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Many forget that Siri is part of a larger iOS system that allows for simple speech to text dictation in many fields. While Siri as a control system works pretty well at this point, the dictation is quite amazingly good. As one who has been following progress in speech to text systems since the earliest days of computers I can tell you that this implementation of it is excellent, elegant, and accurate enough to be truly useful.

    I rarely write (thumb) a text anymore, I speak almost all of them. My guess is processing speech in the cloud rather than locally (which Siri does) is the key ingredient that’s made it possible to have this kind of power on a smart phone.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    By the way Tom, et al, your subtitle ought to be “Smart phones that listen and (attempt to) understand.” Talking smart phones are nothing new, it’s the listening and logic (or lack of logic) that this show is really about.

  • Patrickg

    “Cluzee” is a terrible name.  I think we can expect it to be renamed soon, or quickly overtaken by another app with a name that doesn’t make your mouth feel gross.

    Apple, since the 2000s, has been a good company across the board, but truly great at only one thing: marketing.

    • Jasoturner

      The Applebots will be coming for you…

  • Renee


  • Peymaania73

    How’s about “Clueless?”

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    We’ve certainly come a long way since Eliza and early attempts to pass the Turing test. Now we know the Turing test was and is the wrong approach: one can have a useful tool with its intelligence limited to narrow domains (Big Blue).

    Siri is built on top of tools like Wolfram Alpha, a most amazing data query tool useful on its own without the speech interface.

    • Ayn Marx

      The Turing test will be passed as human conversation becomes more and more stereotyped and uninteresting.

  • Jeff in Belmont

    All this Terminator stuff is really super Tom but how about getting us an Android app that allows us to listen to WBUR?

  • Anonymous

    Now we will be forced to listen to this too. 

  • Ayn Marx

    Why go on living?

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    My spouse says that Siri has serious issues around some specific questions about rape — if you ask about getting help after being mugged it refers you to the police.  But if you ask for help after being raped, it supposedly says “Are you sure?”

    Personally, I think depending this much on a smart phone is disturbing all on it’s own.


    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Got my answer, then — this is not true; though it might have been at some point…


  • Anonymous

    Dead bodies. What idiots.

  • Anonymous

    “calendaring” — I hope Siri can grammarize.

  • Zsiri

    Thought you might want to know that Siri is making her broadway debut in the new show “Lysistrata Jones”, opening this wednesday. When asked, she tells the actors where the nearest brothel is. She gets a consistent laugh.

  • Parisi_margie

    My husband got me a Iphone 4S.  I had no idea how to use the siri until my friends 13 year old took the phone from me and started asking questions.  It was so easy I couldn’t believe it. Now, I use it all the time.

  • JMC

    so when will the Hal 9000 app come out?

  • Anonymous

    The two tones before every answer are very annoying. 

  • Ren Knopf

    Anyone remember HAL? Given my far from sanguine view of computer-voiced “directions” now used on phone calls, these apps are very much in my distant future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade

    I wonder if personnel AIs or personnel machines such as Siri, Iris and Cluzee are the beginning of true human-machine integration. Science fiction is filled with examples of personnel computer systems that interact with human counterparts whether it is HAL 9000 or Cortana of Microsoft’s Halo game franchise and I believe that as smart phone technology becomes smaller, cheaper and more heavily integrated with our daily lives humanity will become more heavily reliant upon it. Perhaps to the point that every human on earth will have a personnel assistant and even companion in their pocket, in an earing, or even on a chip implanted in their heads in the near future.

  • Gerald Fnord

    How do I escape from a walled garden?

  • David2370

    I think all of us use some speech recognition now, and will use more as the technology improves.  The idea that you are always connected to the “cloud”, however doesn’t work for those of us who live in rural areas with sometimes spotty coverage.  There is a bit of ‘creep’ factor in your phone tracking you everywhere you go, too.

  • Beth

    I have heard that Siri has a pro-life bias. Is this true?

    • Alex Kingsbury

      We, or rather Siri, just answered, this question on air. Hope you were listening!

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Beth, I had the same question, and if it was true, it is not anymore.  They just tested this on the air.


      • kelty

        Glad to see they made the changes probably becuase it was getting so much attention – I saw a report where the reporter asked for @ women’s clinic while standing in front on a Planned Parenthood and it said there weren’t any locally and yet asking for a Men’s clinic resulted in a number of results. Pretty poor programming or…..?????

  • Karen

    First I’d like to say how much I enjoy reading Hiawatha Bray’s column.  I really trust his opinions.  So Mr. Bray, as a 57 year old who gets frustrated with too much technology(still can’t load the DVD into the TV) but I do text etc…Would I be thrilled about Siri or frustrated??? 
    One more question, would Siri help me  download a podcast of On Point?

  • Anonymous

    Siri could be programed to repeat Republican talking points and fill in for Matt Continetti on Fridays. 

  • steve

    the soul of Siri ??

  • None

    What’s your take on privacy concerns? 

    • Drew You Too

      See my question for Siri and Cluzee below. Obviously I’m not shocked it has not been asked. Likewise, I doubt you will hear ANY discussion of privacy concerns. This is an ad campaign, not an open minded discussion.

  • Jeff in Belmont

    When will the NSA hack into SIRI (when?) and listen in on our conversations?

    • steve

        Jeff, I don’t think you want that information do you? You seem to have a preoccupation for this information. Could you tell me why you care for this. Jeff I’ve notified the police in your town because I care for you and think you need help. I’ve shut you down until this issue can be resolved..
        yours Siri

      • Jeff in Belmont

        Luckily I don’t have any Apple products.

    • Jeff in Belmont

      Another spy related question: “Siri, can you please block the NSA or any other intelligence agencies from listening in on my conversations?”

  • George Alexandre

    I have had a droid razr for a couple of weeks now and I am very frustrated that I can’t get the voice functions (“jeannie” and “voice commands”) to work on any practical level. My friend has an iphone and siri seems soo far advanced. Any comments or advice for droid users?
    Thank you, George Alexandre, Barrington, RI

  • Jeff in Belmont

    I’m not suicidal but I was wondering how she would respond to the question, “what is the best way to kill myself?”

  • Anonymous

    Too bad Sherry Turkle wouldn’t do the whole hour with you and with no other guest on. Penetrating analysis is sorely needed here.

  • Caroljeff

    I wish you would check Siri’s response to the question about finding an abortion clinic.  In New York, the response was an anti-abortion ‘counseling’ organization.

    • Anonymous

      Was that due to the deceptive ways the counseling organizations describe themselves and not the programing?

  • Setholmes

    ask siri if she is self aware.

  • lauren from boston

    Why are all of the US assistants female voices?

  • Glenn Koenig

    Can these help you when you’re having a trouble with the phone or device?  I want it to diagnose why you can’t get on the internet.  I want it to tell you when something seems wrong, such as something stops working or there is about to be a component failure in the device, right?

  • Listener

    Interesting stuff… It’s no secret that Apple designed Siri to learn as time goes on. It learns our accents; it learns our relationships; it learns about us. What is Apple doing with all of this data? Who might eventually gain access to it through whatever means whatever legal or not?

  • Anonymous

    You had Turkle listen to the program for 45 minutes so that you and your guest could giggle over the phone and waste our time? What a goof.

  • Stardustspeck

    I think it is interesting that out interactions with technology are very social. Look at the success of Facebook.
    I have been developing a 3D virtual reality environment for teaching astronomy (it takes the students to Jupiter). We rolled it out in class this week. The first thing our class did (non science college students) was to find each other (avatars) and set up a place to socialize. Whatever technology we develop we put our social aspirations on it…

  • Gene Levine

    I’d like to add my vote for Hiawatha Bray as one of the best tech columnists around – I’ve enjoyed his Globe columns for as long as he’s been publishing them.

    My question: have you read the Isaac Azimov short story: “The Last Question”? It’s right “on point”

    Gene Levine

  • handyandy

    Make sure Turkel has a robotic attendant when she gets committed.  No affection, no care, no human interaction. Just what this cold bimbo needs.

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      While your comment is a bit harsh, I think it’s a great idea. She went overboard in her paranoia and has been for years. No doubt using things like Siri will have affects on us but as one who’s been using it for a while now I can report I’m not drooling (much) yet.

  • Drew You Too

    YES!!! Privacy, thank you.

    • Drew You Too

      And Carrier IQ!!! Wish it would have been brought up earlier in the show. Amazing how quickly the issue was dismissed with no real discussion. Guess I should be happy it was even mentioned at all.

  • JMC

    i think if people can realize technology is to free us from mundane tasks and as a result have the time to spend our newly found quality time with grandma it is a benefit, unfortunately most of us like spending time on ourselves once free time is provided and leaving grandma with Hal, the nature of our society, not all but certainly the U.S.

  • Joshua G Wright

    Using the abortion question as a base

    Siri uses software that interacts with the cloud and the iPhone has GPS. Assuming that your show is in real time and if apple knew you were on the air , it is within the realm of possibility that apple was able to feed your show an answer through Siri that answered in a way that worked for you right?

    They could change the search parameters or answers to hones asking that question in your area.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dmitrid DMitri DeVos

    I am seeing an increasing number of calls from “intelligent voice recognition marketers”. It’s the Hall 9000 of telemarketer…!

  • Anonymous

    Very disappointed in this shallow, sophomoric discussion of technology. There are plenty of venues and a zillion YouTube videos which feature folks giggling over technology. We turn to NPR for substance. Next time a famous MIT professor like Sherry Turkle agrees to spend some time with you, let her speak for more than 5 minutes. Hope you had fun asking your phone where to bury a dead body (tee-hee-hee-hee). Morons.

  • JMC

    Tom may change his tune the day he shows up to work with Siri as a co-host.

  • Amy Kennedy

    Is the voice recognition technology employed by Siri being used with any devices for the deaf and hard of hearing? My husband relies on a relay service, with people typing his conversations, to make phone calls and it has quite a delay. We hope that eventually there is a device that offers a more real time experience.

  • Joshua G Wright

    So assuming Siri is a super advanced input tool, a paradigm shift like the mouse and computer it also is that device that gives you answer.

    When you google something you get a list of answers based on an algorithm and by clicking on possible answers from many possible perspectives.

    When you ask siri a question the software gives you a single answer based on certain parameters which the user may accept as fact

    Assuming that iPhone software knows both who you are and where you are, and likely you opinions and perspectives on things based on your previous search history it could therefore feed you the answers that work for you but not for someone else.

    So if you think of a conflict scenario like Syria or even the us elections. Siri could feed all republicans answers that support their side and democrats would get answers that support their side even if there was a clear middle ground obvious to everyone else.

    So my question is, who controls that editorial filter? And what is the obligation,Meitner moral or legal for the search company

  • Florashepherd

    Since someone just mentioned the emotional manipulation of people by virtual interactions, I wanted to mention this. A free app I downloaded for iphone called tiny zoo lets you breed virtual baby animals. If you don’t pull them out of their incubator within an hour of their “birth,” they become ill. So the next time you open your app, a message pops up saying that this baby animal is ill. You can choose to either heal it by purchasing (with your credit card) a virtual cure or you can, in the game’s words “abandon a sick baby animal.”  The images are quite illustrative. You can easily spend $10 or more healing each baby animal. It’s marketed to children, but it even tugged at my heart strings. Heartless program to squeeze money out of children.

  • JustSayin

    Dose Siri understand jive: Hey Siri dat cracker down da street bin gettin’ wit my woman. Should I pop a cap in his ass?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    The only interesting and intelligent voice in this conversation was Hiawatha Bray and while I think it’s a great topic for a show, this show wan’t very good at all.

    Siri is still in beta, it’s a first step toward a speech interface with handheld devices and as one who uses it, I think it’s an excellent first step.

    Sherry Turkle has been worried about the social impact of computers for years (it’s her life’s work) and while her points are worth considering, it’s much too early in the evolution of speech UIs to be as concerned as she seems to be about how we’ll be using our iPhones as psychotherapists.

    Siri is a speech interface for an iPhone, simple as that. Apple built in some humorous and softer interaction scripts that are fun to mess with but in reality Siri is a speech overlay on things we already do with our smart phones.

    Little was said about Wolfram Alpha, the data query software that Siri uses to find answers to things. Siri just knows when to use it and how to possibly enunciate it’s responses when they’re short enough.

    What Apple has done with Siri isn’t revolutionary, this type of interaction has existed for years, but putting Siri’s parsing engine on a server (not on your computer or phone) and hooking it into a variety of publicly available data and making this whole package very easy to use is quite extraordinary and no doubt is the start of something quite big in the world of smart devices.

    • Anonymous

      Hiawatha giggled for an hour. 

      “it’s much too early in the evolution of speech UIs to be as concerned…”

      Studying emerging technologies is just that. Theorizing them before they are here. It is not “too early.”

      • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

        She’s been saying the same things for over twenty years… she was worried that Eliza would take over psychiatry.

        What has your experience been with Siri? Mine has been extremely positive, it’s a useful tool.

      • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

        I’m still waiting to hear what your personal experience has been with Siri.

  • wonderman

    People have been substituting attachments to pets for human relationships for centuries.  Is this better or worse than substituting attachments to computers or applications for human relationships?

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      Good point. In California they’re attached to cars.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

        lol. That’s funny compared to Boston and especially NYC.

    • Anonymous

      The difference, of course, is that computers and robots will not just simulate mute pets and have human qualities projected into them, they will more and more simulate human intelligence and then surpass human intelligence. It will be more like talking to a God than talking to a barking, panting Fido.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

    Another techonogy that only good for now. There is a new phone coming out and I bet each one of you are excited to buy the new phone even though you just bought your new smart phones. Did you ever wonder where all THOSE CELL AND SMART PHONES GO?

  • Jennifer

    We’ve allowed the art of listening to be thoroughly degraded in our homes and schools and businesses.  We barely have enough time for each other as we rush around, especially now during the “Christmas rush.”  In that context, I found today’s program  more than discouraging.  It was dis-spiriting.  Ashbrook gave too much time and attention to a giggly pundit who was allowed to sell the benefits of a technology, one that presumably “listens and responds” promptly and seemingly appropriately.  Hopefully the program will be a jumping-off point for more considered discussion of why humans have such a hard time conversing face-to-face with each other.

  • Irene Moore

    I play games on my computer, sometimes with the computer and sometimes with other persons.  Although the technology is to me the same, the games played with other persons have a distinctly different feel to them – the other person may quit, do something unexpected, vary the pacing, and so on – express a human reaction to my play.  This difference is infinitely more satifying than playing with the computer alone which is incapable of acknowledging my existence no matter what it sounds or looks like.  The trick only works for a little while.

  • shaze232

    Came to express utter dissatisfaction with this segment. 5-10 minutes of listening to Siri really is parlor tricks. I learned nothing 2 Apple commercials hadn’t told me.

    Ashbrook- Let your speakers finish. You’re interrupting your guest’s clear and concise description of what’s on the iPhone screen. Come on.

    How about discussing Siri’s DARPA roots?  

    There was never a clear description of how the software works. Surely that merits bumping HAL comments 4-6.

    Are we rephrasing the way we speak or the way we think to help Siri understand? To help google understand? Certainly effective Googlers are better at thinking like Google..

    What are Siri’s current and future capabilities with regards to non-Apple app’s?


    -Thoroughly disappointed. 

  • Catonjr

    Love 4 S. Not perfect is true. Does not understand my Boston accent. However most St Louis residents don’t understand me either

  • Louisemonahan

    A couple of quick thoughts.  Steven Spielberg’s movie A.I.,(Artificial Intelligence) and IRobot could be used in this conversation as both movies deal with the emotional side of technology.  I also recall the 70s craze for the pet rock.   

  • Alcapewell
  • NoAppNecessary

    Walking around the isle of NYC the last week, my friend forgot to take along the directions for an out of the way place.

    “Just look it up on their web site.” I suggested.

    Trying to demonstrate his voice-enabled android app, my friend says,

    “Watch this.” saying the name of the place and its location directly into the smartphone.

    No response.

    “Wait, watch this.” saying the name again louder and more slowly while repeating the location.

    Still, no response.

    As we continued our approach, this process was repeated five or six times to no avail and with some embarrassment.

    In the meantime, we asked a passerby and they pointed us down the street while giving us the proper and appropriate landmarks.

    Old school, voice prompted GPP (geo-positioning-person) – no app necessary.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cwooley89 charles wooley

    wow that lady at the end needs to chill out
    everything she said was the textbook definition of a slippery slope
    Not to mention what is she so worried about?
    Its inappropriate to talk to inanimate objects?
    With siri more often than not the case is not talking just to siri, but talking to other people through siri’s txt messing and email services. Whats the difference between having siri relay a message for you in text and leaving a voicemail.
    Then they go on to talk about how video games invoking emotions in people is such a terrible thing. When in reality most video games tell stories, and all truly great works of fiction have one thing in common, they invoke emotion in the reader. Is their something wrong with getting emotionally involved in a story. Is Romeo and Juliet supposed to be viewed in a non-emotional light. Or does the form of media really make that much difference(books, movies, video games)
    lets get serious now…

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  • Slipstream

    Boy am I not in a hurry to have to listen to these annoying robotic voices all over the place.  It is unpleasant enough on the phone.  I would rather just try to find something than have Siri go looking for it.  And do the voice interactions get recorded somewhere, I wonder.  I’m sure this will come up in future court cases!

    However, this technology is opening doors for a lot of things to help people with disabilities, and in that sense it is a very good thing.

  • Ian Boardman

    Tom, Love your show, and I think you do a great job.  That said, it’s “speech recognition” not “voice recognition”!  Siri even *told* you so, when “she” said, “I don’t know who you are” in reply to one of your guest’s silly questions.  I’ve heard some people who know better say that they use the term “voice recognition,” referring to technology that enables machines to identify who is speaking, when they really mean “speech recognition,” referring to technology that enables machines to understand the words we speak, because they believe their audience won’t understand the term “speech recognition.”  That is presumptuous for anyone leading a conversation before a audience whom you know for a fact are generally well educated.  

  • Rebecca Holmes

    You can’t validly compare marriage/religious observance rates in the 1960s to the 2000s among white working class Americans and draw conclusions. In the 1950s and 60s, most women had little opportunity to work, men supported the families, women were dependents, and divorce was difficult if not illegal. Birth control was less available. So what you had then was a lot of wretchedly unhappy, women dependent on their husbands for support living in fear of pregnancy. They went to church because it offered a social life- often all that was available to them. Was that a “better” society?

    My concerns today revolve around the growing gap between rich and poor and the inherent, selfish meanness parading as conservative values. And I think others should start looking at this, too, conservatives and liberals alike.


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