Siri, Why Aren't You Sassy?

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Apple's looking for a writer to give its cyborg assistant more "character."

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Q: Siri, why are you so boring? 

A: I'm sorry, Megan, I didn't quite catch that. 

Q: I just asked -- Siri, why are you lifeless? 

A: Do you not know, Megan, that I am an automaton? 

Q: Yeah, I know that, but, I mean -- Siri, why are you so boring?   

Siri, Apple's "virtual personal assistant," is many things: a voice in the digital wilderness, a font of useful information, a connection between the physical world and the digital, a politely obliging ladybot. One thing Siri is not, however, is scintillating. Siri will gladly find you the nearest non-Starbucks coffee shop, or direct you to that Korean BBQ place on 16th Street; she will less gladly, however, accommodate you with witty repartee.

And that is because she can't -- because Siri, bless her, doesn't do banter. Your iPhone, for better or for worse, is no Dorothy Parker. 

That could be changing, though. Because Siri, bless her, could be getting a speechwriter. As the blog 9-to-5 Mac reported, Apple recently posted a job announcement for a "writer/editor" for Siri -- a listing seeking someone to "develop and write original dialog to support new Siri capabilities." From the sounds of things, Apple is seeking that someone in order to, essentially, re-write Siri as a sassy sitcom character.

Here's the job description

We're looking for a uniquely creative individual to help us evolve and enrich Siri, our virtual personal assistant. Siri's known for 'her' wit, cultural knowledge, and zeal to explain things in engaging, funny, and practical ways. The ideal candidate is someone who combines a love for language, wordplay, and conversation with demonstrated experience in bringing creative content to life within an intense technical environment.

Let's assume this is an actual job announcement, rather than a press release -- Guys! Siri's gonna get better! -- in the guise of one. The writer/editor role would be slightly different, ostensibly, from the more basic job of translating Siri into other languages (among them, at last count: Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Korean, Norwegian, and Swedish). Instead, it would be about creating a persona to inhabit those languages -- about "formulating utterances" that give Siri a distinct personality. It would be about imbuing Siri with qualities that both rely on and transcend words: wit, cleverness, that certain je ne sais quoi-ness. Here, per Apple, are the role's explicit duties:

  • Develop and write original dialog to support new Siri capabilities; refresh and refine existing Siri dialog.
  • Work closely with interaction designers in formulating utterances, and in specifying them and their parameters for engineering staff.
  • Develop a rapid editorial process and workflow for eliciting ideas (from internal, external, and user sources), creating and refining dialog, soliciting internal reviews, getting dialog into production, and learning from user reaction to it.
  • Ensure the consistency and quality of Siri dialog from all sources. Help the Siri team evolve Siri as a distinct, recognizable character.
  • Co-lead a working group on cross-cultural / multi-language issues

The question, however -- and it's a question Siri herself may not be able to answer -- is this: Does the world really need its cyborgs to be verbally dextrous and personality-laden? Do we really want our "virtual assistants" making puns and cracking jokes and otherwise Oscar Wilde-ing themselves? Isn't information for information's sake sometimes -- just sometimes -- enough?

In other words formulated utterances: Siri, do you really need to be sassy?

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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