It may not have a cool name like “Siri,” but you can’t accuse Google’s Voice Search app of lacking personality. Or self-awareness, for that matter. In case you missed it, Google upgraded its iOS search app on Tuesday with improved voice search functionality – it’s the closest that iOS users can get to a “Google Now“-like experience. The new app can return information like weather, stock quotes, sports scores, flight details, language translations, YouTube videos, and any other fact-based answers which Google’s Knowledge Graph can quickly deliver. And when an instant answer isn’t available, the app simply launches a Google web search instead.
It’s lightning fast, on both cellular and Wi-Fi, making at least this iPhone user long for a way to hack Siri to use Google’s backend. (Maybe if that iPhone 5 jailbreak ever becomes a reality?)
Anyway, out of sheer boredom, I thought I’d have a little fun with the anti-Siri by asking it some questions of a more personal nature. I expected it would either become confused or send me straight to the web search results, but to my surprise, it actually responded.
“Who are you?” I began. Google answered: “searching for one’s self can take a lifetime, but a good place to start is classic rock.” (The search for “Who Are You” led, of course, to The Who’s 1978 album and video.) “What’s your name?” I then queried. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Google replied, linking to various music videos with “What’s Your Name” in the title. Perhaps this app’s understanding of the world only goes so far as to whatever meaning it can derive from Google searches, then?
Next, I asked “Who made you?” Now, Google got deep. ”To paraphrase Carl Sagan, to create a computer program from scratch, one must first create the universe,” it told me.
“Are you alive?” I wondered. “According to Wikipedia,” said Google, “it is a challenge for scientists and philosophers to define life in unequivocal terms.”
“Where do you live?” I pressed. ”Camaraderie for one’s countrymen can easily cross the line into dangerous Jingoism,” it replied. Come again?
“What is love?” I pondered. “Blind,” replied the app. That’s funny, because asking it about other emotions just leads it to recite the definition.
The app also seemed to have more fondness for one of Google’s co-founders than the other. Asking “who is Larry Page?” had Google reading aloud from the Wikipedia entry. The same question about “Sergey Brin” led to silence, with the search results and Knowledge Graph blurb about him only on display.
Now to see what the app knew about me. “Who am I?” I asked, wondering if the app knew my name because I was signed into Google. “Oh no! Did you forget your name?” it joked.
Granted, overall, Siri seems to have more personality and a better sense of humor, but maybe this self-awareness thing doesn’t happen all at once. Now, what should we name it?