Google's Andy Rubin Makes a Flawed Case Against Siri

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His commonsense argument that we should use our phones to communicate with each other, not a virtual assistant, doesn't actually make any sense

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In an interview with AllThingsD's Ina Fried, Google's Andy Rubin made a two-line case against Siri, Apple's new voice-controlled 'virtual assistant' for the iPhone 4S. "Your phone is a tool for communicating," Rubin said. "You shouldn't be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone."

It's a good line, but I wonder, how much is a phone solely a tool for communicating anymore? Nerds love to point out that your phone now has more computing power than NASA did in 1969 and approaches a high-end desktop from a decade ago. The computer in your pocket is not just a tool for communicating; in fact, communication, per se, make up a small percentage of the ways that we use these things.

I'm not sure Google even believes Rubin's statement. After all, they've been touting what a big deal mobile search is becoming -- and how similar mobile searches are to desktop searches. That's not about communicating with people; it's about finding and organizing information, classic computer stuff.

It may well be that computers (or phones) are not very good as personal assistants at the moment. But I think using Siri is going to sneak up on people. They'll initially be disappointed that the phone is not HAL 9000, then they'll start using Siri to make reminders and appointments and phone calls to shave keystrokes out of daily lives. As futurist Jamais Cascio once wrote, "Changes rarely shock; more often, they startle or titillate, and very quickly get folded into the existing cultural momentum."


Image: Joi/Flickr.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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