THE BLOG

Dear Siri, Why Does Nobody Get Me?

25/06/2013 14:35 BST | Updated 25/08/2013 10:12 BST

Unlock your iPhone, turn on Siri and tell it that you're lonely, and Siri will reply "I'm sorry to hear that. You can always talk to me".

This may not surprise you, let alone horrify you, but should the technology in our pockets really be offering to replace human interaction, when its purpose is supposed to be keeping us all in touch?

Throughout the past 70 years, the development of computers and the digital age has allowed philosophers, writers and film producers to create exciting and bizarre possibilities, of a future in which humanity and technology have a variety of relationships. It's easy to shrug off novels and films depicting a robotic future, and artificial intelligence, as simply science fiction. However, whilst these projections are often disregarded, due their apparent over-exaggeration of technological development, you may be surprised by how close to the truth some of these have come.

During the 1960's, two different theories for a computerised future were proposed. One theory can be seen as the most recognisable projection, in which artificially intelligent technologies, made to look and behave like humans, co-exist with people in society. You might be familiar with a recent example of this concept; in Will Smith's I-robot, humanoid machines live alongside mankind in a projection of a technological future.

Parallel to this first theory is an alternative, more moderate, and less widely known idea provided by J.C.R. Licklider, who is widely accepted as the father of the internet concept. This proposed that the future would see man and machine collaborate, sharing the strongest of their resources in order to solve personal and world problems, and live on the limit of merging as one being.

Whilst the "I-robot" theory is the most widely reproduced, within film and media, with Honda's Asimo perhaps the closest real world example, this science fiction reality still seems a distant future, if a future at all. It is, in fact, Licklider's projection that has proven to be far closer to the truth, but maybe not as you might imagine.

As our devices have developed to allow us to control what they do and how they behave, and as they have begun to communicate with us through ever more human-like interfaces, we are able to perfectly balance our own abilities, and limitations, with those of our technologies. Also, unlike people, we can switch off our mobile phones, when they disagree with us! In this way we are able to create a controlled interaction, with an artificially intelligent system, without the emotional risks and consequences present in any human relationship.

Whilst this situation of a balance between man and machine fulfils Licklider's projection, the result of being weaned into an ever more intimate relationship with technology is that we have begun to retract from real social interactions and have, in effect, come to expect more from technology and less from each other. Perhaps it may be said that we have, more accurately, come to expect more from technology and less from each other and ourselves.

Sitting on a long journey it's difficult to spot a parent who isn't distracting or entertaining their child through the use of technology. Interaction with technologies which can communicate with us and respond to us, from such a young age, is inevitably going to influence the way in which we create our social understanding and expectations. This sets a worrying tone for a community which is becoming ever more dependent on technology.

It would seem that the development of technologies which mimic human characteristics, such as compassion and care, is inevitable. So can we, as consumers, expect that future mobile phones or other interfaces to be more like real people, including elements of human imperfection, risk and error?

Perhaps you should unlock your iphone and ask Siri for the answer.