Whether AI ends up augmenting, replicating or replacing us in our lifetime, we don’t yet know. But it’s safe to assume that the way we think about technology will be increasingly linked to how we feel about it and its presence in our lives. As Facebook becomes another behemoth to talk about its big bet on AI, I wonder if Apple may have quietly pipped them to the post.
When you think of Apple you think product - screens of varying sizes and weight. You think of towering white churches of technology. You think of occasionally (and increasingly less so) iconic ad campaigns. And, if you’re that way inclined, you’ll think of a software and services ecosystem that’s equal parts groundbreaking and unnavigable.
What you are unlikely to associate with Apple is sass, quirkiness and a strong moral code. You’re not going to think of them as chatty, approachable or flexible. They have no social media presence (not including Apple Music), and a service style that is cultish at its best and robotic at its worst.
But you’re missing a trick, because this whole time Apple have been nurturing a voice that has the potential to grow so powerful and so influential it will shock us. Siri.
Look beyond the silly Easter Egg answers, and you’ll find hidden depths and hidden clues to Apple’s long-game into the AI space. Siri, it turns out, is liberal af. She’s pro-choice and supports LGBT rights. She’s also, presumably, a feminist - polite and helpful but unwilling to take your bullshit or hide her vast intellect. She’s the Her that smart women want to be and right-on men want to be with.
The future of technology lies in its ability to behave like a human. So it makes sense that such entities strive to be as intelligent and forward-thinking as we’d hope for ourselves.
As we hand more tasks and decisions over to tech (from arranging meetings to looking after our elderly to driving cars), we’re going to need to trust it and have confidence in its emotional abilities as much as its logistical ones. We (the crossover generation who remember the time “before”, and who’ll stubbornly cling on to the bits that feel uniquely ours) will want to be sure we’re not going to have a HAL situation on our clumsy hands to solve with our slow, dumb-ass brains!
Facebook spent last week positioning itself as a potential leader in the AI space because of its “unique situation” with social data. But perhaps they’re already behind. If you’re an Apple user, Siri is probably the only (or one of the very few) robots you are already comfortable chatting to. And, with every sassy or silly reply, we’re getting more ok with her as an entity that can help us do more.
Today we think a lot about Apple, but it has yet to really make us feel anything beyond smug. For a company so empirically closed and reserved as Apple, Siri represents a whisper that could one day evolve into a song. A song that not only reflects how we feel about technology, but how technology feels about us.