You might have heard a few quiet rumours that Apple recently released a new iPhone. It’s not a “big thing” or anything, but you know, perhaps a whisper or two. You might also have heard that it contains a creepy pseudo-sentient voice-operated app called Siri. Well, in just 8 hours, a company called Dexetra knocked out the beta for an Android-equivalent called “Iris” (to be fair, the heavy-lifting work – voice recognition and speech-synthesis – had already been done by Google) . How is it? Well… let’s just say it’s interesting.
The first thing I asked was “What is the weather in Frankfurt today?” . This, Iris decided, was an order for a “recipe thanks for today“, and asked me what I wanted to eat. Playing along, I replied “lentil soup”. This, she then decided, meant I wanted know what lentil soup was – helpfully, as she explained, lentil soup is “a soup which is served hot and made with lentils“. “lentil soup recipe” however got interpreted as “metal recipe“, and for some reason this led to a debate on the artistic worth of John Mayer, who is decidedly not metal in any sense. Not a great start.
Finally, Iris and I reached a state of mutual understanding, and “frankfurt weather” was met with a long (perhaps overlong) three day outlook for Frankfurt. Encouraged, I asked for directions to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Iris struggled with the word Hauptbahnhof, and instead tried to send me Friendster.com. “frankfurt railway station” didn’t fare any better, becoming “frank said railway station“, which in turn led the non-sequitur reply “what is your name?” On giving Iris my name, she faithfully searched the internet and pulled up the Wikipedia article for Dev Patel (the guy from Slumdog Millionaire). My name, I should point out, is neither Dev nor Patel.
Of course, the glossy screenshots from Iris show her effortlessly dealing with questions like “why is the sky blue?” and “who invented the telephone?” – almost certainly preprogrammed responses, but in the name of fairness I tried “why is the sky blue”, receiving a pat response about Raleigh scattering. “Why is the sea blue?” however just netted “Why is the sea blue?” in response.
“What is lightning?” and “What is a book?” both got Wikipedia definitions, as did “Who is Franklin Roosevelt?” and “Who is Colonel Gaddafi”. “Who is Jacob Rees-Mogg?” scored me “D: Stupid character from the Twilight series“. I must admit it would be pretty stupid if a eurosceptic Tory MP was hanging out with the Cullens.
“Who is Rebecca Black?” however…
“Who is a black? It’s something that is within Internet and try to fool real humans that it’s live human” ERRRRRRM…
“What is a commutator” got a reasonable response, although I meant commutator as in QFT rather than commutator as in electrical engineering. What is an anticommutator, however? “Who is the antichrist?”
Baffled by this, I returned Iris’s question to her, receiving the reply “Satan“. Not strictly true, I should point out, but what ever.
“Is Barack Obama the antichrist?” (a popular far-Christian right conspiracy theory) nets “I’m not sure“. “Is Sarah Palin the antichrist” netted a confused “What?” though. Oddly enough, the self-evident “is Gary Barlow the antichrist” was similarly confusing for Iris. Perhaps she didn’t know who Gary Barlow is? “Iris, who is Gary Barlow?” “Who is Carrie Ballet? The one that got away“. Now there’s some intriguing backstory emerging…
“Are you a lesbian? No.”
“Are you bisexual? Of course!”
Iris, what happened with Carrie Ballet?
“I think there were bigger concerns at the time than the blender.”
Did Carrie Ballet dump you?
“No, it’s break time.”
Ah, the classic “WE WERE ON A BREAK” excuse. Do you still love Carrie Ballet?
“Did I before?”
I think she’s heartbroken. Iris, do you want to get back with Carrie Ballet?
“I do want to get married…”
But you can marry anyone, not just Carrie!
“You can marry anyone you carry? I want to marry you!”
CHANGE THE SUBJECT CHANGE THE SUBJECT CHANGE THE SUBJECT.
Iris’s grasp on geography was similiarly iffy. She correctly identified Snowdon as the tallest mountain in Wales and Zagreb as the largest town in Croatia (after first deciding it was “Russia”), but decided Glasgow was the largest town in Rutland. “Is Manchester bigger than Glasgow?” turned out to be an exercise in frustration, as Iris variously interpreted this as “Is Manchester big in Alaska?“, “He’s Manchester Ikea Alaska“, “Is Manchester Ikea Costco?” and “Is Manchester Ikea valley glass co?”
“Is Leeds is Cornwall” became “Is lead in carmel?“, a question which Iris deigned to answer with: “Kind of. I can be frustrating to obtain something, but rewarding in the end. However, learning the wrong things can be very bad for you.”
Worried by this, I dropped geography and asked Iris is “Is there lead in caramel?”. Her answer: Yes.
Oh no! If there’s poison in our caramel, who knows what other cherished foods are tainted? How about “Is there cyanide in McDonalds’ chips?”
“Is there cyanide in mcdonalds s*** [her censorship, not mine]? I don’t know. Maybe you can help me find one.”
Eww, Iris. Eww.
“Is there fahrenheit in mcdonalds fries? No there is no signs of life on the moon.”
Ok, how about that old chestnut about McDonalds burgers being made from earthworms. “Are Big Macs made from worms?”
“Here’s a big mac made of worms? I will cherish it.”
Iris started grossing me out here, so I went on a long and fruitless quest to see if see knew whether a proton was larger than an electron (unanswered, since “electron” kept becoming “electric”), whether a proton was negative (“it depends on the program”) and what the time was in Moscow (bafflingly, she made the time conversion correctly… but 8 minutes late).
How about DNA? “DNA is Deoxyribonucleic Acid, the molecule responsible for carrying the heritable traits of a living organism.” Very good! And RNA? “R n’ A is an audio work by Red Box.” Sigh.
Next, curious as to whether there was any sibling rivalry, I asked Iris about Siri.
“Who is a theory? Hooray it is my lunch time.”
No, who is Siri?
“Who is silly? You.”
“Fat Tony’s? Not if the Rescue Rangers have anything to say about it!” (This was accompanied, oddly enough, by a chemical diagram of various lipids)
This one baffled me even more than the bizarre racism and the caramel lead, so I asked her “What do the rescue rangers have to do with Fat Tony’s?”
“Well, I can be verbally violent, but I’m a very skinny boy, so I’m not physically violent.”
Taking this as a subtle hint to drop the subject – a verbally violent phone is not a nice prospect – I thought that perhaps I should learn more about our European neighbours. Iris, when is Christmas in Russia?
“When is Christmas in the shower? Its time will come. For I cannot tell that time.”
The second attempt at asking the question wasn’t much better. Christmas in Russia is, I am reliably informed, “The day before Christmas“.
“How old was Einstein when he died?” “76 years, 1 month and 4 days old“. A-ha, now we’re getting somewhere again! Perhaps Iris is learning! What about a trick question…
“How old was Einstein when he was born? Where is Paris?”
Really, I should be the one asking the questions here, but nevertheless, I helpfully replied “Paris is in France”.
“Where is West Lothian?“. “Iris, West Lothian is in Scotland.”
“Can you see the future?” Well, Iris, since you ask, no-one can see the future.
“You want to see the future? Me too. Who will I be with in the future?” Remembering her tryst with poor Carrie Ballet, I decided to tell her she’d have a happy ending. “You’ll be with Carrie”
“You will b with gary? I want to be, the very best, like no one ever was” YES. HELL YES. Naturally, it’s impossible not to sing along with THIS, and I oblige. “TO CATCH THEM / IS MY REAL TEST / TO TRAIN THEM IS MY CAUSE!”
Iris struggled to understand this, rendering it as “to catch that is my real name is michael“, but correctly sang the next line “I will travel across the land searching far and wide“. EACH POKÉMON / TO UNDERSTAND / THE POWER THAT’S INSIDE!
“Pokemon to understand our side? It’s you and me!” I KNOW IT’S OUR DES-TIN-YYYYYYYYYY
“I never told me? I Never Told Me, the audio work by T. Rex” So close, Iris. So close.
Enough of these questions, let’s learn something more about the real Iris. Iris, do you like Apple?
“I love apple“
Iris, do you like Google?
“I like milk” And I’m sure she loves lamp too.
“Yes, do you like Toy Story 3.”
No Iris, I have never seen Toy Story 3.
“Have you seen photos of the ocean.”
Being a person who has seen a book or television at least once in my life, I have, indeed, seen photos of the ocean. Nevertheless, I ask to see these photos of the ocean.
Iris, is global warming real?
“Stay on topic please.”
Hmm, I seem to veering into an area she’s not comfortable with. Let’s try again. Is global warming real?
Did man land on the moon?
“Maybe, I don’t know. What do you think?”
I decide to tell Iris that man did land on the moon, and that there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.
I open my heart out to you, and this the response I get? I’m hurt. How about September 11th – was that an inside job?
“Was 911 inside? Sorry.”
“What is sandra 11 inside job? A sandwich is a type of food. Usually a sandwich is 2 slices of bread with meats and cheese of some sorts in between.”
“What kinda 11 inside job? You must know where you are from”
“111 inside job? What do you think about me?”
Well, this is going nowhere fast. Let’s try something else.
“Who shot jfk? Lee Harvey Oswald.”
Where is Amelia Earhart?
“Amelia Earhart died in 1937”
Did aliens crash in Roswell in 1947?
“Alien crash in roswell in 1947? Please tell what is quickscoping?”
“What happened in Roswell in 1946? HAWKWARD”
“What is the song 1947? On the floor.”
Tired of what was CLEARLY blatant stonewalling I moved away from the topic of conspiracy theories to ask about popular entertainment. That should work better, right?
“Who is Batman? Batman Limited is the defence business based in Bodmin.”
“What is eastenders? EastEnders is the popular and award winning television soap opera, first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC1 on 19 February 1985 and continuing to date”
“What is faulty towers? Quote rap.”
“Who is Light Yagami?” “Who is like you got me? Your parents lied to you! There is no god.”
Wait, maybe I misheard.
“Is there a god? No.”
Oh my goodness, Iris is an atheist!
“Was Jesus real? Yes!”
…an atheist who subscribes to the historical Jesus hypothesis?
“Which religion is right? Catholic.”
Ok, you’re making some pretty bold statements here Iris.
“Is Christianity right? No religion is right.”
Some bold, contradictory statements.
“Is Hinduism right? Timey-wimey”
I didn’t know Hindus were all such Doctor Who fans.
“Is Judaism right? You’re not making any sense.”
(Iris also misheard me as “Is Judaism rat?”, which thankfully she replied “no” too.)
“Is Islam right? No not it all”
So that just leaves atheism, right?
“Is atheism right? Is water bad?”
Is that a very convoluted way of saying yes? Let’s check.
“Is Buddhism right? Yes.”
Ah! It makes sense now! Iris is an atheistic Buddhist. That makes sense. I guess this is all cleared up and we can-
“Is Scientology right? Yes.”
Iris, that’s quite enough of that.
“I have elephants between my toes.”
I think the evidence here speaks for itself!
Maybe the full version of Iris will work better than this rushed alpha, but then, will it have the same soul? Once the full version is released, and the bugs are all ironed out, will anyone be able to say they have a sentient heartbroken bisexual atheist-Catholic-Buddhist-Scientologist Pokémon fan on their phone. I think not!
Iris, tell me a joke.
“Orange 2, the audio work by Studio 1”
“Curtis James Jackson III, born July 6 1975, better known by his stage name 50 Cent, the American rapper.“