A Lesson From Siri, the iPhone’s New Personal Assistant

Posted on October 12, 2011


While Apple’s latest iPhone-related announcement didn’t bring a radical redesign of the ground-breaking smart phone there is one element of the newly unveiled 4S that may be the start of something revolutionary.

An article in Fast Company’s CoDesign newsletter points out that Siri, a new app the company describes as “a humble personal assistant,” may turn out to be a game changer.

Siri is the first step toward removing the need for an interface between you and your phone. Instead of pushing buttons and launching apps all you have to do is talk to the phone and it does what you need.

This short Apple promotional video nicely illustrates the concept and has a great music bed:


In the article writer John Pavlus points out that this isn’t a new concept. Computers in science fiction movies and TV shows have often, “converged on direct, natural language input as the logical endpoint for mainstream, non-specialty computing.” Think “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

He adds, “we already ‘designed’ the ultimate interface between brains tens of thousands of years ago, when homo sapiens started talking to each other around the campfire.”

While Pavlus is dead on about the potential impact of Siri I think he misses one of the most important lessons we can learn from this “humble personal assistant”; the power of listening.

You see the real breakthrough wasn’t when Homo Sapiens started talking to each other around the campfire.  It was when someone started listening that communication began.

The guttural grunts that eventually became language weren’t worth anything until someone else at the campfire paid attention.

For many hosts listening is a lost art.

We spend so much time talking that listening gets left behind.

I frequently hear hosts not really grasp what their callers or guests are saying because they are too busy getting ready for the next time they get to talk.

For that matter I frequently notice people everywhere failing to grasp what someone is telling them for the exact same reason.

The concept of Siri only works if the program can listen to the user and understand what they want it to do. Otherwise it is worthless.

Just imagine Captain Picard telling the computer to shut down a nuclear fusion reactor that is about to explode and getting the weather on Regulus 5 or traffic reports from the Delta Quadrant instead.

So take a lesson from Siri, try listening to what people are saying. You might be surprised at what you hear.