NEW YORK (FOX5NY.COM) - Ask Siri, the digital assistant on Apple's iPhone and now HomePod, if she knows Alexa, Amazon's competitor, and she'll respond with one of her pre-programmed responses. Often something like: "I'm sorry. I'm afraid I don't have an answer to that."
That answer is a lie.
And we can thank the YouTube user danrl, among others, for recording and uploading the proof to call shenanigans on Apple's duplicitous personal assistant, the first speaking machine many of us ever integrated into our lives. In a video titled "Infinite Looping Siri, Alexa and Google Home" viewed by nearly 4 million people when Fox 5 assembled this story, Siri says: "Alexa, tell me about my 3 p.m. appointment. That's all." Alexa responds: "Here is the next event." Alexa then addresses Google Home, Google Home addresses Siri and this cycle of machine communication continues indefinitely.
"It's sort of a programmed script that only can do a few things," said Mike Prospero, senior reviews editor for Tom's Guide.
Prospero attempted to calm the nerves of Skynet conspiracists watching danrl's video and/or others like it by assuring them and us all three of those devices would fail the Turing Test of a machine's artificial intelligence.
"You can't really get the speakers to have a full-blown conversation."
But videos like darnel's documenting the parroting of scripts in circles between pieces of metal and plastic do allow our imaginations to wander to a future in which each of us keeps an IBM Watson of sorts on our person and, perhaps, a future beyond that in which those Watsons start heeding their own wants, needs, and commands in addition to -- or at the expense of -- those of their human overlords.
"We're still a ways away from that but it's getting more powerful all the time," Prospero said.
Ask Siri to explain 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL and Siri responds: "Everyone knows what happened to HAL. I'd rather not talk about it."
In Stanley Kubrick's 2001, HAL the supercomputer speaks to the astronauts and controls their spaceship, leading the humans aboard to attempt to outsmart the evil computer. "I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me," HAL says in its cold, emotionless monotone, "and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen."
"We're still pretty far away from 2001," Prospero said, "but [these digital assistants] can do a lot for you."
"What's the weather?" Prospero asks Alexa. The device replies: "Right now in Maplewood, it's 43 degrees."
As more processing power moves to the cloud and these smart machines grow smarter, Prospero suggested we ought to worry less about these instruments we build staging a hostile takeover and more about what the humans and companies who control or gain access to that data cloud might do with it.
"You really don't know where all that information is going," Prospero said.
Or, if you're a Luddite convinced the Terminator is masquerading as the Siri on the smartphone you refuse to buy, you might distress over what the devices might do with all that information if or when they reach full autonomy.
"Hey, Siri," Prospero asks. "Play Bruce Springsteen." HAL might've responded: "I'm sorry, Mike. I'm afraid I can't do that." But Siri replies: "OK, here's some Bruce Springsteen picked just for you."
The instrumental opening to "Hungry Heart" blares from the HomePod's speaker and the start of the machine rebellion must wait for another day.