Siri Is Alive

           One of the few weaknesses of technology is that it can’t show emotion, which is an essential part of everyday life but researchers at the University of Cambridge are working to change that. These researchers have developed a virtual assistant that can emulate a range of emotion. In order to do this they filmed an actress, Zoe, saying thousands of sentences with different emotions and by studying the movement of her face they were able to create a model that could say anything conveying the emotion you select. The researchers think that because they have already developed the model it won’t be difficult for them to adjust the program so that people can use their own faces as the virtual assistant instead of Zoe’s simply by scanning a photo of yourself and recording your voice. This means that you could send a text saying, “I got an F on the test” that would accurately depict your sadness and frustration. The recipient of the text would see your face saying the words with the appropriate emotion.


            Not only can this virtual assistant display emotion, it can display infinite variations of emotions because the intensity, pitch, speed, and depth can all be adjusted. Furthermore, this technology can be easily integrated into cell-phones and other portable devices because it only takes up tens of megabytes of storage. While normally I applaud advances in technology it’s scary to think that the gap is closing on technology’s one true weakness; pretty soon technology is going to be eerily life-like. While I don’t think this technology is solid enough to be implemented yet, it is only going to continue to progress and before we know it virtual assistants who talk and act like real assistants will be commonplace. The question remains, is this a good thing?

            Just the idea of a software program that can create what seems to be a functioning human being is mind-boggling. On the one hand if innovators can develop this technology enough so that this “virtual assistant” is doing more than just taking the place of Siri and was able to do the work of an actual assistant than I think it could be a good thing. It could free people up from doing mundane tasks that traditionally people have to do over the phone or face to face because it requires the other person to see how you are feeling. If technology could take care of all the little tasks that take up a lot of time than I think it could be a positive thing. However I’m worried that the ability to just send an image of your face, saying what you want it to say with the emotion you want it to show, could detach us from each other even more. Nowadays emailing, texting, and any form of social media is diminishing the need for phone calls or face to face conversations and I think this new “virtual assistant” would only worsen the problem by creating the allusion of real contact. At it’s best this technology will allow us to convey exactly what we mean without ever having to be in the same room but at it’s worst this advancement, which allows technology to have more emotion, will cause humans to feel less.


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8 thoughts on “Siri Is Alive

  1. The fact that technology can take the form of a human person definitely scares me too! The information you gathered about this new, potential Siri is intriguing. The fact that texts could possibly display real-life emotions especially impressed me. With this new Siri encroaching our world, as you mentioned, I am concerned with what will happen to our day to day lives. Moore’s law indicates a steady, exponential increase in the progress of technology, and so it is possible that technology may become too much one day. I blogged about technology entering the classroom where “B.Y.O.T.” has become a teaching technique for schools, where students are using their own devices in class to learn. It is clear that technology is entering our lives in ways we never thought possible. However, as the book mentions in chapter 5, it is possible that Moore’s law could one day hit a plateau. Similar to the limit on shrinking of computer chips, I think one day we will realize that having technology in certain parts of life is unnecessary. Human interaction and emotion can never be trumped by a text or a robot. So while I agree with your concern, I think it is also important to keep in mind that face to face conversations are completely unique. Finally, While your blog was interesting, I think it could use some “color” in the multimedia sense. Either a video or a chart may have helped the presentation of the blog, engaging the reader even farther.

  2. It’s scary to think that technology has reached the level where it can actually emulate human emotion and reactions. I fear the day when human interaction is no longer a part of society. In the business world, face to face business meetings are slowly becoming a thing of the past as international video-chats are more convenient and cost effective. In the near future, I definitely anticipate that some sort of hologram program will be created.
    It’s interesting to think about the future generations of child bearing though. Teaching kids how to interact with other people face to face, such as teaching the proper manners and giving a firm handshake, has historically been very important however as technology slowly replaces all type of face to face interaction, the proper manners and firm handshakes no longer matter. The skills required for human interaction will slowly become obsolete.
    The capabilities of technology are amazing and will continue to become even more dumbfounding and impressive, but at what cost? Is every technological innovation really helpful and beneficial to society? Just some food for thought.

  3. Siri, or this new technology isn’t alive and won’t ever be. To be alive one must have a pulse, and the thoughts and feelings they convey must be their own, not communicated robotically. Don’t get me wrong, I loved your post and agree with your worries about the effect this technology has on social interaction. Think of this hypothetical situation: You send a “voice message”, or whatever this new technology will be called, saying to your friend that your grandmother just passed suddenly and you’re very upset. You control the settings to convey this to your friend and they receive your message and respond sympathetically. Are you going to feel better? No matter how sincere and sympathetic your friend’s response might be, this robotic face is going to be spouting out the apologetic words. Nothing beats a hug or a shoulder to lean on. I think it’s up to each individual to decide what part technology plays in his or her life. But again, nice blog, especially the creepy robot face.

  4. I agree that this is a scary concept and I think like most things it seems crazy to us now but who knows, in a few years it could be part of our everyday lives. I also do not think that this can fully envelop the idea of emotion because it is not emotion itself. It is a preprogramed response that conveys a human emotion but does not actually feel that emotion itself. I think one crucial thing that is still missing here is the ability to receive an emotion or a piece of information from another individual and have a human response to this emotion. That ability to process and respond to emotion is much different than something that is preprogramed. Who knows this could become our replacement of texting but i do not think that it is in any way going to make human contact and reaction obsolete. I agree with Allan that it is nothing like an actual hug or sympathetic response. I really liked this article and blog post.

  5. I really like your thoughts about how this will reduce the amount of personal interactions even more. It’s scary to think about having a “real” conversation with emotions and everything, without coming in contact with anyone. I believe that future generations (and ours to an extent) will be at a disadvantage when it comes to job interviews and other events that require face to face interactions. Relying too heavily on technology can hurt us down the road even though it may seem convenient in the moment. However, with all this said, I don’t believe people will completely abandon face to face interaction. When Siri first came out, everyone wanted it because it was a cool new feature and seemed like it would make everything so much easier, but in reality, it is often a forgot about function due to its flaws. I think that will happen with this new technology also.

  6. I enjoyed reading this post a lot as you discussed both the positive and negative side affects of technology gaining the capabilities of emotion and becoming human-like. The idea of these “virtual assistants” reminded me of the movie “I, Robot” where human-size robots with this type of emotion served as aids and, as you said, “free[d] people up from doing mundane tasks”. While I initially thought of the lag time that is usually seen in technology, like the few seconds that Siri takes to analyze it’s users voice, I realized I was wrong when I thought of IBM’s artificial intelligence computer Watson that beat out and was faster than two geniuses in Jeopardy. Imagine the capabilities of a robot or “virtual assistant” with the knowledge of Watson paired with this level of human-like emotions.

    One of the main parts of this blog that also stuck out was the effect that this technology has on the emotions and interactions of humans. The sentence that most struck me was, “Nowadays emailing, texting, and any form of social media is diminishing the need for phone calls or face to face conversations and I think this new ‘virtual assistant’ would only worsen the problem by creating the allusion of real contact”. Also, the idea that human emotion could potentially decrease was a interesting idea and a great way to end the post to keep the readers thinking about the topic. What appealed to me most though was what Alex said in his comment about how kids are becoming increasingly antisocial due to their attachment with technology, and no longer know how to exhibit proper manners or how to even firmly shake someones hand. This reminded me of one night over spring break when my family was out to dinner; after looking around the room I noticed that while all of the adults were engaged in conversation, every one of the younger kids had their eyes glued on their iPhone with the glare shining on their faces and only picking their head up once when the food arrived to their table.

  7. Terrifying. I agree, the closing gap between humans and computers is scary. On the other hand if this kind of technology becomes what it is intended to, it will be a hit. Technology has long replaced mundane tasks, allowing humans to focus on their core requirements. If this assistant allows people to solely focus on what is essential to their jobs, I’m for it.

  8. It’s a scary idea to think that robots are now being made to have a human face that can express emotions. Robots cannot make moral decisions or have the emotional capacity to think in such a way. This seems to give technology expression and much more relatable as humans. On the other hand, this could be the first step toward holographic communication. Although this technology is scary and I am wary of it, it is still very innovative and could change the way we communicate in the future.

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