Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm ok if you're ok. Ok, stop it.

Is sexual harassment the new Turing Test?  Alan Turing postulated that we can tell if machines could think by whether they act like they can think.  The way his test worked was that...

... a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with a human and a machine designed to generate performance indistinguishable from that of a human being. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give the correct answer, it checks how closely the answer resembles typical human answers. The conversation is limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard andscreen so that the result is not dependent on the machine's ability to render words into audio.

Siri, Apple's new personal assistant inside the iPhone 4s wants to act like a human assistant.  She doesn't just understand your words she understands your meaning.  Or at least she seems to.  

Wait was I just been referring to a talking box as "she"? 

Jonathan Mann, of song a day fame, raises the stakes by adding inappropriateness to the mix.  Jonathan professes his unrequited love to Siri who reacts with remarkable aplomb.  First she tries to ignores it.  Then she redirects.  She restates her objection.  Then she uses humor to diffuse it.  In short, she acts like a smart woman who is trying to send the right signal to a harasser; "not a chance, dude, get over it."  

In fact, it's Jonathan who comes off as not understanding what the hell is going on here.  Score one for Siri.

Then she starts tossing around mildly obscure cultural references.  Douglas Adams' answer to the meaning of life.  She quotes the first artificially intelligent villain in pop culture, HAL.  She's pretty funny in the face of his creepy behavior.  

But eventually, when Jonathan can't catch a clue, Siri has to lay down the law.  Stop.  Just stop.

Seems like a pretty intelligent response to me.

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