AUBURN — She is, we heard, remarkable. Astounding. Awe inspiring.
So funny/insightful/delightful that you'll want to chat with her for hours, forsaking all others to spend the evening discussing life, the universe and everything —
With a computer.
That's how good Siri is supposed to be.
The Siri craze began almost as soon as the Apple iPhone 4S was released in mid-October. Sure, other smartphones offered voice recognition — heck, my car offers voice recognition these days — but Siri was touted as one of the first to interpret and respond to conversational speech. Think "Where's a good Mexican restaurant?" rather than "Dial: home." Android has since come out with a similar speak-it-and-thy-will-be-done program, a free app named Iris. That's Siri backward.
But while there are others out there, Siri's fans say she's the coolest of them all. Or at least the most fun. Websites have popped up to showcase the unexpectedly wacky conversations that have evolved from people playing with their phone's virtual assistant. (Siri, where do these people find the time?) Bloggers have posted stories about what happened when they asked Siri for the meaning of life and questioned how much wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
So we decided to get in on the game.
What would happen if we asked local questions?
Can you get there from he-ah?
Where to go for some good creton?
Are the Patriots done for?
We borrowed Siri from the local AT&T store to find out.
'Siri, am I slurring?'
The phone, truth be told, is very nice. Sleek and modern, substantial in your hand but not too heavy. It's easy to operate, just like all the iPhones before it, so I expected Siri to be pretty easy, too.
"Siri, where can a person get some good creton around here?" I asked, referring to the popular Franco pork spread.
"I don't know 'where can a person get some good cretonne around here,'" she answered genially enough, both speaking and printing her answer on screen.
"Creton," I tried again.
"Kretek," she said.
"Creton," I emphasized.
So. Not so easy.
Granted, Siri is still in beta. But it wasn't that I had suddenly acquired a speech impediment, or that "creton" was a particularly exotic word. At least, not in Lewiston.
Yet Siri sometimes stumbled over basics, like "the," "there" and "Maine." (Preferring at least once on screen, "mein.")
"Siri, am I slurring?" the Sun Journal photographer finally asked.
"I would prefer not to say."
That's the thing about Siri: Sometimes her answers are intentionally on target. Sometimes unintentionally.
It can be hard to tell the difference.
"Should Bill Belichick be sizing his Patriots for Super Bowl rings or AARP memberships?" I asked, referring to their poor showing last week against Pittsburgh.
A map flashed on screen. "I found 12 jewelers fairly close to you."
The fairest of them all
Sometimes Siri didn't understand us at all. But then again, that can be true of a lot of out-of-staters.
"Siri, can I get there from here?" I asked.
"I don't know what you mean by 'can I get there from here.'"
"Explain the blue line in hockey," I commanded.
"I don't know that."
"Where did the Maineiacs go?" I asked.
"I'm on it," Siri assured me. Then she suggested a Web search.
My request for directions to Mexico elicited a contrite, "Sorry, I can't provide maps and directions in Mexico." Though a request for directions to the more specific Mexico, Maine (or, you know, Mein) produced a map with three appropriate routes.
Siri, it turned out, was pretty good at maps and business locations.
"Where can I get a good lobster?" I asked. The AT&T store shares a building with Little Ceasar's Pizza and the smell was wafting through. I was getting hungry.
"I found a number of restaurants," Siri said, popping a list of restaurants on screen. "Seventeen of them are a little ways from you. I've sorted them by rating."
"Find a good bar in Lewiston, Maine," I encouraged.
"I found 19 bars . . . 14 of them are in Lewiston. I've sorted them by rating."
"Is a casino a good idea?" I asked. Sure. It was a Magic 8 Ball sort of a question, but things were going well, so maybe . . .
"This casino is a little ways from you," Siri announced, offering a map to Chipco International Casino Supplies in Raymond. (Even though it's now located in Yarmouth.)
Not a casino, but casino in the name. Close.
Keywords, it seemed, were king.
It's why tech bloggers and Apple fans across the country have such a good time asking Siri to "beam me up" or querying "Who's your daddy?" Her best sarcastic answers are preordained by her creative programmers. Funny, but preordained.
"Siri, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" I asked.
"Forty-two chords of wood, to be exact," she answered. "Everyone knows that."
"Who is the fairest of them all?" I asked.
"Snow White is the fairest of them all," she answered.
"Who's your daddy?" I asked. OK, so this was more fun than pulling up a map to Mexico, Maine, or finding a place with good creton.
"You are," Siri said.
I may have detected a slight sigh of exasperation. "Can we get back to work now?" she added.