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The Melting Pot

A digital, cultural conversation

Siri, Apple's new brainchild. Image from gigaom.com.

Saying that the new artificial intelligence voice assistant for the iPhone 4S is cool is probably the understatement of the century – Siri may just be Apple’s most mind-blowing invention yet.

Siri can tell you if you’re going to need your umbrella today. Siri can tell you where your friends are at any given time. Siri can tell you how many ounces are in a pound. Siri can read you your text messages, and send replies back efficiently. Siri can figure out which contact in your phone is your sister, and send her a text message that you dictate to it.

Siri puts Google’s voice recognition feature on the Android to shame. The fact that it can recognize relationships an act upon context trumps any Android feature. Everyone in the tech world is bowing down to the potential and skill set that Siri possesses. Plus, in traditional Apple flair, the logo looks awesome.

So, Siri is beyond cool – it can do anything. But Siri is also kind of scary.

Apple has put artificial intelligence detectors one step higher on the totem pole of human/computer relations. The robots of Asimov’s sci-fi tales are starting to come to life – slowly, but surely. Now, this seemingly innocent assistant knows just about every feature to our lives, including personal stuff like relationships. And that connection to our most solid piece of identity, and the control over the elements that make us who we are, makes me wonder whether or not Siri is also unintentionally dehumanizing mankind.

But here’s the thing: a relationship with someone isn’t something you can materialize into an iPhone. A relationship is deeper than technology, and deeper than a dictated message to a friend. The fact that Siri has the technology to process the depth of relationships is unnerving and creepy.

What happens to a person whose identity is controlled by a gadget? We all know the answer from science fiction tales of woe: the person eventually must succumb to the will of the robot. The person, as a result, loses himself, as he becomes a tangible representation of pieces of himself that aren’t supposed to be tangible – life, love, relationships.

People, as a result of Siri, will become heavily dependent upon the gadget – so much so that they will forget the important things about life. Watching a pretty sunset, or hanging out with friends, or just quietly reading a book – these ideas will disappear in exchange for the quick pace of technology and reliance on the iPhone. We will all lose an appreciation for life, which is one of the core pillars of humanity.

I’m not sure that people were ever designed to live under the control of robots, as Siri seems to suggest. Siri isn’t just another step forward in the progression of technology; it’s a scary reminder of just how much of ourselves we can put in control of a gadget, and just how much of ourselves we lose when we do it. We are losing pieces of our humanity to a robot, proving that the science fiction idea of people losing themselves to robots is turning into reality.

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