Siri: Stop!

Posted on 2018 April 29

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siri stop modern_mobile

We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. — Marshall McLuhan

Sometimes Siri is a moron — it’s hard to use, misunderstands questions, and often gives useless answers.

Siri — for those of you living under a rock — is a search agent built into the iPhone. You talk to it, requesting information or asking it to do things like send a message, take a note, or dial a number. Often, Siri manages to do it correctly. Sometimes, not so much.

(For those of you who are Millennials and don’t know what “dial a number” means, see me after class.)

But something strange happened with Siri on my phone, and I’ve begun to wonder if, in fact, the moron is me.

I exercise daily, and I need an alert when it’s time to stop. (Without one, I sometimes just keep going, which is not always a good thing.) So I reach for my phone, wake up Siri, and say, for example, “Remind me to STOP at 1:15 p.m.” Siri replies, “Okay, I’ll remind you.” So far, so good.

Along comes the stopping time and my phone makes a cheerful little alert noise … and the reminder onscreen says, “START.”

“START”?

Not that it matters that much — I do get an alert, and I stop exercising at the right time — but why does Siri think I want to “START”?

Was Siri having trouble with my pronunciation? I tried to say “STOP” more carefully, making the “P” louder, and sometimes that worked. But more often I still got a screen reminder to “START”. What the heck was going on?

Then it hit me. A long time ago, just for fun, I configured Siri to speak, not with an American-TV accent like mine, but with an English one. She has a lovely voice that way — kinda sexy, in fact. But what if Siri had been taught to listen with an accent? Does Siri expect me to enunciate like a Londoner?

Then I wondered, How would an Englishman say ‘Stop’? Never mind that there are many accents in England, including Cockney, Multicultural London, Oxford, Cornish, Cumbria, Lancashire, and so forth — I just needed something vaguely British. So I replaced my American “stop” with … “Stope!”

“Remind me to STOPE at 2:45 p.m.” … “Okay,” said Siri in her charming accent, “I’ll remind you.” And she did, and the notice onscreen said “STOP”.

It worked! Perhaps English Siri really does listen with an accent.

Then I thought, Maybe I’ve had trouble getting good research answers from Siri because she doesn’t quite understand my Americanisms. I decided that, in the future, I’d try a fake British accent when asking questions of Siri, in the hope that she’d catch on quicker. (I might feel silly doing it in public, but what the heck.)

Finally I decided, This whole problem has been my fault all along. I hadn’t fully thought through the implications of turning Siri into an Englishwoman. (As Bugs Bunny would say, “What a maroon!”) The easiest solution would be simply to reset my phone to American English. Then I wouldn’t have to jump through all these accent hoops.

…But where’s the fun in that?

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