Siri, Google Now, & The Smartwatch Tread A Path Towards "Her"

The greatest act of undesigning in Her, technologically speaking, comes with the interface used throughout the film. Theo doesn’t touch his computer–in fact, while he has a desktop display at home and at work, neither have a keyboard. Instead, he talks to it. “We decided we didn’t want to have physical contact,” Barrett says. “We wanted it to be natural. Hence the elimination of software keyboards as we know them.”

Again, voice control had benefits simply on the level of moviemaking. A conversation between Theo and Sam, his artificially intelligent OS, is obviously easier for the audience to follow than anything involving taps, gestures, swipes or screens. But the voice-based UI was also a perfect fit for a film trying to explore what a less intrusive, less demanding variety of technology might look like.

My first thoughts on using Siri, a little over two years ago, was that Apple didn't intend it to be perfect. In fact, given the technology of the time—and our imagination of what a true artificial agent might be—it was inevitable that the reality would fall far short. So, while not on the same level a perception/reality mismatch as Newton's handwriting recognition, Siri has come in for her own fair share of satirical brickbats since she first made an appearance on the iPhone 4S. 

The point though was never to introduce a perfect AI interface: Rather it was to help us rethink how we configure, control and interrogate complex technologies. Put simply, Siri's job was to train us to talk to our devices. Viewed as such, I'd call Siri a partial success, and a work-in-progress. I use Siri from time to time: Often when I have the phone in my pocket and my headphones in ("what's the time?", "read my messages", "tell my wife I'm almost home"), sometimes when my hands are busy ("set a timer for three minutes"), and occasionally when the process is just easier than tapping and swiping ("wake me at 7"). Other times I forget she's lurking below the surface of the UI, one accidental extended press away from waking and interrupting my flow.

I'm convinced though that Siri and her descendants will be a big part of our future. I love what the production team on "Her" have in mind for their "slight future".