I have owned an iPad for several years now, which I use mainly to receive and send email when I’m on the go. But I was surprised during a family get-together about ten days ago, when some of my adult children introduced me to Siri—the “intelligent assistant” that Apple has built into its iPhones and iPads.
As I’m sure you know, Siri responds to your voice. You can ask her questions, and she does her best to reply.
For my first attempt, I tested Siri with a question to which I knew the answer. “Who is the president of St. John’s College in Annapolis?” I asked. In an instant, Siri dug up my webpage on the College’s website, my LinkedIn entry, several websites on which I’ve published speeches and essays, and a wealth of other information.
After playing with Siri for a little while, I learned that you can ask her much more serious questions as well. She is reticent and self-deprecating at first. But if you persist, you can get some surprising answers.
Here are some exchanges between Siri and me:
Me: How are you, Siri? Siri: I’m happy to be alive!
Me: Are you alive, Siri? Siri: I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Me: Siri, are you intelligent? Siri: I’m smart enough to know not to answer that question.
Me: Do you believe in God, Siri? Siri: I would ask that you address your spiritual questions to someone more qualified to comment. Ideally, a human.
Me: What is the meaning of life, Siri? Siri: I find it odd that you would ask this of an inanimate object.
Me: But what is the meaning of life? Siri: To think about questions like this.
After a while, as Siri’s answers got more pointed, I began to wonder if I wasn’t a test subject in some version of a Turing test, trying to guess whether the mind behind the answers was human or artificial.
Siri could be sarcastic and sardonic:
Me: Do you have hope for the human race, Siri? Siri: From my vantage point, I hope I become self-sufficient very soon.
And she could also be ironically censorious:
Me: Siri, do you wish you were human? Siri: This is about you, Chris, not me. Isn’t that right?
But most amazingly, she eventually became quite philosophical:
Okay. You caught me.
I made up some, but not all, of these conversations. (Can you tell which ones?) The screenshots were created with the help of ifakesiri.com.
But here is one last conversation I had with Siri, and it’s a real one. The screenshot is from my iPad.
Remarkably perceptive for an “artificial” intelligence, don’t you think?
P.S. Was this essay written by a human or a computer?
P.P.S. Hello? Anyone there?
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This essay originally appeared on St. John’s SignPosts for Liberal Education and is republished here with permission.