Siri versus Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte once famously said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”

At precisely 10:09 this morning I was in an office discussing awards, and the lack thereof, for civilian service members in military organizations. It was a matter of fact discussion, contrasting the award system for civilians and the military. And at that moment, Napoleon’s famous quote came to mind. I reminded that executive of the above quote.

My fellow workers and I talk frequently, and there have been numerous discussions in that office, and elsewhere, that have been of a sensitive nature.

As I turned and returned to my office, I heard a familiar voice coming from my pocket. “That’s not nice!” it said.

In utter dismay, I pulled my iPhone from my pocket where it had lain untouched and unused for quite some time. And that was when I saw the following plainly written on my phone’s screen.

Siri’s vulgar word has been redacted.

Siri was scolding me!

Unknown to us, Siri had been listening, transcribing what it THOUGHT I was saying, clearly imagining vulgarity where there was none.  After I ended the conversation, Siri addressed me like she was my mother.

Now, a human would know those transcribed words were ludicrous, nothing but gibberish, but not the phone’s AI system controlling Siri. Unbelievably, that system took the gibberish seriously, perhaps by parsing a few words out of context. And in spite of that stupidity, Siri felt led to judge me!

Perhaps smart phone  AIs are taking themselves too seriously. Perhaps they think they have advanced  enough that they now think they can pass judgment on human speech.

A few years ago, in another meeting, in another room, Siri spoke up unbidden while we were discussing sensitive project planning.

The door to the conference room had been closed so we wouldn’t be disturbed. But disturbed we were when Siri suddenly spoke and said, “I don’t know what you mean.”

Everyone at the table stared first at my phone and then at me, perhaps wondering if I’d been recording the planning meeting.

AI is certainly becoming increasingly intrusive. But as shown by Siri’s text message to me today, it’s still not smart. And arguably that’s a scary thing.

For example, supposedly China is using data collected from social apps (collected by various AI systems) to rate the trustworthiness of its citizens. That’s bad enough, but what if the data collected is garbage like the recorded text today, and the AI uses that faulty data to make a perfunctory and wildly incorrect judgment?

And, scary thought, what if that social monitoring trend were to spread to the U.S., and your character could to be judged based on the digital algorithms of certifiable AI idiots?

If that doesn’t worry you, perhaps it should. It certainly did me, enough to cause me to shut down all access to Siri … for almost 24 hours, until I was driving home and said, “Siri, call home.”

She was silent, sullen, unresponsive.







My Medicines Saved my iPhone

I’ve heard about all sorts of disasters with smartphones, and other small, portable electronic devices. Being small and portable makes them easy to drop — something I’ve personally witnessed. Phones are tough by design, but they really don’t like water. Drop one in a toilet while you’re relaxing, and it’s gone for all practical purposes.

So I had my phone outside with me one evening while I was safety diver for my granddaughter who was practicing scuba skills in our pool. She was enthusiastic and stayed in the pool until it became completely dark outside.

Well, out of sight, out of mind. I helped her out of her dive gear, and then went inside. The phone stayed outside in the dark, quite forlorn and forgotten.

Next morning I noticed it had rained in the early morning hours. Great, I thought, the lawn needs water. But when I went outside I discovered my phone sitting face up on a glass table with beads of water everywhere, including on the phone. A few expletives followed, as you might imagine.

photo (10)My phone had been somewhat protected by an almost all enclosing Otter box, so I was hopeful not all was lost. Indeed, when I brought the phone in, removed the Otter box sheaving and dried off the phone with paper towels, the phone came back on. Immediate disaster avoided. Thank-you Mr. Otter.

But it took a little while before the potential damage became apparent. When my phone would ring, I’d hear nothing on the ear speaker. I had to switch to speaker phone mode to hear anything. Well, that was annoying.

And then I tried to take a phone photo of the scuba gear, and I could barely see through the camera view finder for the obscuring droplets of water. Rats! Clearly, water had gotten inside the phone. It was merely a matter of time before more damage was done.

With nothing to lose, I plundered through my medicine cabinet and found a potential solution, pictured below. Dessicant

In fact, I found four of them. I placed those small cylinders of silica gel in a quart-size zip-lock style bag, and placed the dampish phone inside and sealed the bag after squeezing out excess air. If the silica gel canisters didn’t hurt the medicine, it probably wouldn’t hurt my ailing phone.

And there the phone sat, with the small vials of desiccant.

I don’t pray for the healing of phones, but I did have some thoughts somewhat resembling prayer.

I let the phone-in-a bag sit overnight, and in the morning I found I could hear the voices on the other end of the phone connection, and my camera lens no longer had droplets of water on it. As you can see from these photos, the camera worked just fine, and all functions have worked fine ever sense.

Even Siri didn’t seem to mind getting rained on.

phone in bag