Phone voice software lost in translation

Voice-activated assistant Siri has many answers.

Voice-activated assistant Siri has many answers.


On the way way back home after voting last month, I thought I'd check on whether my father had cast his vote.

I had just updated my iPhone's software which promised improved voice recognition so I thought I'd reacquaint myself with Siri.

I asked Siri to send the following message to him: "Hey Dad, have you voted yet?"

Siri paused, and then replied: "Hey Dad, have you farted yet?"

"Would you like me to send the message?" she asked.

While this would have made my father laugh, I said no and tried several more times but Siri kept interpreting "vote" as "fart".

Maybe this is part of Siri's perverse sense of humour. Ask her to "talk dirty to me" and she'll respond with a list including compost, gravel and silt. Try it a second time and she will tell you the carpet needs vacuuming.

I've tried using Siri several times but I find myself giving up each time because it's usually faster to type out what I want than to speak the instruction.

Siri and its siblings Cortana (Microsoft) and Google Now are promising to be our digital assistants but at the moment you have to balance their quirks with promised convenience.

However, if you are going to try one it might be best to start with Google Now. It's available on both Android and Apple phones and a recent survey by Stone Temple Consulting showed it came out on top in a competition between the three. Each assistant was asked 3000 different queries, with Google Now getting 88 per cent correct followed by Siri with 53 per cent and Cortana with 40 per cent.

Ad Feedback

Voice recognition software is improving all the time and it also learns from the user so that over time it will pick up on your accent, which means if you've invested time with one assistant it may be worth persevering.

Technology is supposed to improve our lives and I'm sure one day we'll look back and wonder how we survived without it but for now our only hope is to get a simple question answered and the occasional giggle from their eccentricities.

Verdict: Machine beats man

Blayne Slabbert is the technology editor for Fairfax NZ. You can follow him on Twitter @bslabbert or email

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback