“Sir – I can’t find you in our system!” declared the United agent, looking at me with a tired and indifferent look. I waved my boarding pass at her which had a confirmed seat number. I actually wanted to scream - this is totally insane, you guys are ridiculously inept and your airline should go bankrupt, however I checked my emotions in time, and calmly chewed the words – “How is that even possible”, in the most measured tone I could gather at that time.
My daughter and I were trying to reach Houston. We had unfortunately missed our scheduled flight, and were put on the next flight by United Customer Service, but only one of us had been assigned a “confirmed” seat, my daughter was still on stand-by. This flight was our last hope for the day. And at the gate it turned out that they couldn’t even find me in the system. Not to mention that United computers had a glitch the previous day that had resulted in all flights being grounded for a few hours. It was one of those moments when you are forced to let go, and look at the brighter side of things!
As the aircraft gates closed and the chances of us catching any flight that night were reduced to zero, I was toying with the idea of finding a hotel near the Newark airport and catching the first flight out in the morning. It was then that I heard my daughter say “Siri – which song is this?”. As we were walking slowly back towards the famously inept Customer Service desk, she was pointing her phone to the music playing in the airport lounge. At first I thought she was joking, not being aware of the built-in song recognition feature that iPhones have since last year.
“Naming the tune…” replied Siri promptly. And then after a few seconds…”This sounds like ‘There You’ll Be’ by Faith Hill. At this dire moment of frustration with technology (especially United computers) and although I am not a big fan of Siri’s voice recognition capabilities, at that moody moment I was quite impressed with this technology. You just have to press the iPhone button and point towards the music, Siri listens to the music being played, and comes back immediately with a response. Saving you the trouble to try and remember the name of each old song that got stuck in your head.
Later that evening, I tried that same trick when we were waiting at the hotel lounge. Although the speakers in a hotel lounge are invisible, and trying hard to do this in a stylish move - I pointed my iPhone towards the ceiling, tilted my head slightly to the right and ordered Siri to tell me what song was playing. “Ooh, I know this song! It’s ‘22’ by Taylor Swift” was Siri’s immediate response. My daughter looked at me as though I was from another planet. Ok I get it, everyone knows Taylor Swift songs - except me.
Isn’t it amazing that a smartphone can “listen” to music, match it with a database of millions of tunes, and identify which one is playing in a matter of seconds? With this kind of power at hand, I wonder whether I could get answers to some simple questions. So I decided to try it out.
Me – Siri, should I lend money to my cousin?
Siri - “I can’t answer that”
Hmmm…she has been programmed to play safe, I thought to myself. Ok here’s another simple one:
Me – Siri, should I let my wife spend all my money!
Siri – “I’m not sure what to say”
So you see Siri is not only playing safe but also not co-operating when it comes to the real questions in life. Then I decided to ask a simple moral question:
Me – Siri, should I rob a bank?
Siri – “I’m afraid I don’t know what you should do”
Ok so there you have it. Technology is going to get cooler and cooler but it is not going to help you answer the real questions in life. For those questions, you really have to turn to your friends and family, and to your inner self.
It is perhaps the same argument about the limitations of Science as Einstein had hinted. Science can answer what is happening around you and perhaps why, but it cannot say what “should” be happening. Einstein wrote “One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what “is”, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the “goal” of our human aspirations…(refer my previous blog: The Joys of an Amish Lifestyle).
Later that night, while watching my favorite TV show on-demand, I almost forgot that we needed to wake up early the next day. Siri, can you play ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham? Siri responded – I can’t find that song in your iTunes library, do you want me to create an iTunes radio station based on that song?
“I don't want your freedom…I don't need to play around…I don't want nobody's baby…Part-time love just brings me down…”
All of a sudden and out of the blue, I had found “Freedom” - that famous Wham song from 1984! The lyrics that had got trapped in my head more than 30 years ago – those lyrics were free again that night.