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Fox News Anchor Alisyn Camerota Can’t Use Siri, Probably Should Have Read the Manual

When the iPhone 4S was unveiled last year, some were disappointed that it wasn’t a more radical overhaul of the iPhone 4 design. At the time, it seemed that Apple foresaw this, and really played up the importance of the voice-activated digital assistant Siri that came with the phone. Now, Siri, which is still in Beta, is known for being a bit problematic which has apparently led to two class-action lawsuits against Apple for false advertising but there hasn’t been a more cringe-worthy on-screen use of Siri that can top today’s appearance on Fox News.


In the clip, the guests point out that these lawsuits face an uphill battle in court. The onus, they say, is on the prosecutors, to prove that Apple oversold Siri in its ads. Anita Kay, one of Camerota’s guests, also points out that one of the two suits will have a particularly hard time as the person filing the claim bought his phone before the ads started running. But let’s put these lawsuits aside for the moment, and focus on Siri’s performance with Camerota.

Camerota first said that technology simply will not work for her. She proved this by taking a borrowed iPhone 4s — which she called an “iPhone i4s” — and twice asked it which former president recently endorsed Mitt Romney. Both times, Siri did not give a satisfactory answer. Camerota, however, has fallen victim to two common Siri problems. The first, after summoning Siri, she meanders in her question, not realizing that Siri will pick up every word. This completely befuddles the voice assistant.

The second time, something happens which closes Siri’s ears — you can hear both the start and stop prompts — but Camerota continues on regardless. In her piece, she takes this as proof that Siri is not perfect.

However, Siri is not perfect and no one has claimed that it is. As noted above, the software is still in Beta. What’s more, to get Siri to do her amazing things, a user needs to be accustomed to using trigger words and forming commands in a way Siri will understand. Compared to other voice-activated pieces of software, Siri does a far better job of understanding people. But natural language processing is an exceptionally difficult task and the fact that Siri is as good at transcribing and answering questions is almost miraculous. The trouble with Siri is not that it doesn’t know everything, but that it’s so achingly close to being really good that its failures are made all the more frustrating.

For Camerota and Fox, putting a piece of Beta software into the hands of someone who not only does not own nor use the phone in order to demonstrate a point on a news program seems a bit silly. Wouldn’t it have been better to take this opportunity to explain to the audience why these search terms failed, or how they could have been better utilized? At the very least, they could have used the commands used in the ads, in order to draw a closer comparison between the phone’s actual performance and how Apple’s marketing portrayed it.

I ran the question about Mitt Romney’s endorsement by Siri and, admittedly, got the same results as Camerota. However, what she neglected to point out was that when Siri doesn’t understand something it will offer to search the web for it. This is one of Siri’s strengths; it can rely on Google as a safety net to answer everything it can’t handle on its own.

While I’m an Apple fanboy, Camerota’s demonstration does show that Apple has a long way to go before its product is truly universal. However, the most bewildering moment in the piece comes when Marla Tchaicofksy (apologies if I slaughtered the name) proclaims:

“I don’t have the i4s, I have just the regular i4 because like some people I don’t need a woman telling me what to do everyday.”

Okay, thanks. I guess I’ll keep that in mind?

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