Monday, January 6, 2014

But Sirioiusly…

 If you use an iPhone, you are probably familiar with the irritating, know-it-all, robotic voice known as Siri, who purports to be a fount of infinite knowledge about locations, retail establishments, lodgings, biographical facts, historical events, and, well, pretty much anything you want to ask.  The last time I asked Siri something, she replied, “I am not accepting any questions at this time.” I guess even robots get holidays.

It turns out that Siri is not a robot at all, but a voice actor named Susan Bennett, who lives in Atlanta. She recorded many hours of text that included all conceivable combinations of words and sounds, which are then “sampled” by the tiny computer inside an iPhone to produce the desired response. 

Siri is a Norwegian name, which means “beautiful woman who leads you to victory.” (And I always thought that was Nike.)  It is supposedly the name that Siri’s inventor also intended for his first child.

In Britain, iPhone users hear a male guide called Daniel, who is voiced by an actor named Jon Briggs.  In Australia, there is another female, named Karen, who speaks “Strine,” and is voiced by Karen Jacobsen, an Australian-born New Yorker who also sings, entertains, writes songs, gives inspirational speeches, and, for all I know, may juggle plates. She’s a busy gal, also providing voices for several GPS devices.

Why Daniel was chosen as the British name isn’t obvious. It’s Hebrew and means “God is my judge.” Karen is a Danish name, short for Katherine, which was originally Greek and means “pure”—but the chances are, the name was picked because it happened to be the name of the voice actor.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou prefers to get the scanty facts he requires from old volumes with cracked bindings and yellowing pages that line the shelves of his decaying bookcase. 

            I’m weary of Siri, that smart-ass young oracle,
            I wish that she would sail off in a coracle,
            Instead of pronouncing her words allegorical
            In a voice that is pompous and too oratorical.

            As for Daniel, his name is clearly historical
            But maybe it’s just a bit metaphorical.
            Whom should I choose?  The question’s rhetorical—
            I’m going with Karen—and that’s categorical.

1 comment:

  1. After all, Siri's
    Just one in a series
    Of human-like gadgets
    That function like magic.

    No better, no worse,
    Same song, jillionth verse,
    We love to make toys
    Act like real girls and boys.