Voice assistants suck (empirically)

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/07/24/sirius-cybernetics-corp.html


As one user put it, “I don’t trust that Siri will give me an answer that is good for me.”

Well clearly, Siri just doesn’t have enough of your private information. The more she knows, the smarter she gets. Just turn off those privacy controls… yes, that’s it… just click the little button…


Give it 3 years and it will probably be f-ing amazing…

I already use the hell out of the few voice offerings that exist now.

Voice command for your cellphone will be like what CLI is compared to a GUI. If you know the commands it’s way faster.


Also, one of my favs. I shared this with the French Canadian woman whose iphone was having a hard time understanding her. She laughed out loud :joy:

[Language Warning]


When my brother-in-law was disabled by his stroke a few years back, my family tested the various voice assistants. We tried Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Microsoft Cortana.

Each of the first three was usable if you understood their own unique strengths and weaknesses, but Cortana was just laughably bad. I mean really really bad. Asking “where’s the closest place to buy clothes” might give you the address of a sushi bar two thousand miles away, for example.

For my BIL’s purposes Alexa was definitely the best choice, but it was not notably more accurate than Google’s assistant overall. For traveling and directions, Google was by far the best, with Siri in second place.

The big advances are done, but yeah, incremental improvement is definitely ongoing, and the data from my 3-year-old experiments may be obsolete.


You use that gif without subtitles, so all I can see is this:

I’m so tired of text-to-speech where the only choices are generic American or English accents.


I have to admit I use a google home and I love it for what I use it for. As an alarm clock it’s the best as I can shout at it while my head is under my pillow and not have to move or open my eyes.

Siri has never once answered one of my questions.

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I think there are a bunch of circumstances where voice assistants will be (and are) useful, like when driving or in cases of disability. But for the most part, they’re just too slow and imprecise to be fully useable.

I feel its a situation like with texting… No one really predicted that we’d want to be interacting by the written word; instead, big companies ceaselessly pushed video-calling tech… In reality, people prefer texting as a casual, less-taxing form of interaction, while video calls serve a very specific purpose.

I feel like the relentless pursuit of the Star Trek all-purpose voice-activated computer is doomed… It makes sense for a TV show (where showing a person typing into a keyboard or whatever would be awful), but it’s just not the best way to perform most common tasks in the real world. It’s ok for turning down the stereo volume, but not so much for detailed research projects or involving sensitive information.

Brain interfaces are going to be where it’s at.


My brother has a hard time with Siri, but I don’t with Google. Then again I’m not going to ask it what it thinks of me. I just might not get the answer I like.

I find Siri is mostly useful not for stuff that requires a lot of hands-on work, but for stuff that requires a lot of scrolling or submenus. If there’s a specific song I want to hear on my phone, it’s usually easier to ask Siri to play it rather sift through the phone to try and find it, for example.

The other upside to Siri is that it does vocal confirmation of a lot of orders. So if you program in, say, Ajit Pai’s number as “Fucking Pai, Ajit.” and then ask Siri to call Ajit Pai, it’ll respond with “Calling Ajit Fucking Pai.”

I’ve had the phone number for my congressional representative programmed that way for months, and it still hasn’t gotten old.


Gotta love broad conclusions from tiny sample groups!

Alexa plays music from spotify when I ask with very reasonable accuracy. Turns on my lights when I ask (pretty much always). Tells me the news and weather and traffic situation when I ask, and offers me answers to simple questions (via Wikipedia) satisfactorily. And she plays Jeopardy. My learning curve has basically been learning to precede questions with the word: Alexa.

The idea that the device is considered useful only because my hands are busy in the kitchen or I don’t like mobile keyboards is silly. It’s just often convenient to vocalize commands from wherever you are, period.

The examples–at least in the snippet posted–seem to miss the general day to day usefulness of the devices in a way that almost seems intentional.


My biggest gripe with these is that AFAIK there is no way to get a pure voice interface (with audio rather than visual feedback) while mobile. Alexa is the only one that seems any good at providing purely voice responses, but it’s not mobile, i.e., you can’t walk around with it or use it on your bike.

I keep seeing ads online with people using Google Assistant on their phones while driving or riding a bicycle. If anybody knows how to make that actually work, please let me know. My experience with GA is that it responds to nearly EVERY query by showing me a list of webpages, or, at best, a list of options or a map that requires MANUAL input. How is that helpful when riding my bicycle?

The stupidest thing is that when I say “give me directions to …”, GA will pop up a map with directions that requires me to press the start button! Once I press that button I get audio feedback but I have to take my eyes off the road and hit a little phone button before I can get directions. Stupid. (Again, if anybody knows a better way, please tell me).

And yes, OK, I admit it: I’m doing this on a motorcycle with a bluetooth-enabled helmet and my phone mounted on the handlebars which is, yes, incredibly dangerous. So I really would prefer to never have to look at the phone and certainly never to have to touch it.

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I use my Amazon Echo to control my smart home features like lights, thermostat, home theater, etc. It works great. I’ve set up routines and picked skills that work with all my stuff. It is quite efficient at what I ask it to do. I rarely use Alexa to search the web. I need a screen for that, and if I have my iPad in my hand, I just search the web normally. I just got an Amazon Fire 10 with Alexa built in so that might change. I see a whole lot of potential in it and it works right now for me, so I’m sold.

I have an idea! We should let them drive 3 ton minivans at 45 miles an hour directly adjacent to sidewalks filled with pedestrians.

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Speaking solely from my little sphere, I am still awaiting the day that someone, in public or private, uses a voice assistant in my presence practically, as opposed to just showing it off.

I know it happens, but I’ve never yet seen it. I must know all the wrong people.


I’ve noticed that for alarms, if I ask for an alarm in 24-hour time Siri confirms it in AM/PM, and if I ask in AM/PM Siri confirms in 24 hour time.

I’d be the first to agree that the hideous glorified AVR rigs (you know it’s a cyberpunk dystopia when something considered inferior to human interaction with T1 call center agents is a consumer product…)

That said; being required to master all kinds of arcana, constrain my interactions in many ways, and be left with gnawing doubt about whether the interlocutor understood me; and definitely live in fear that the answer provided my be inaccurate and/or specifically chosen not to be good for me is pretty much unavoidable when dealing with standard organic intelligences.

Not to say that the bots aren’t less competent and more prone to making completely off-the-wall errors from time to time; but the notion that interacting with intelligent agents is intuitive, trust-inspiring, or accommodating to those who will not infer the arcana of required behavioral constraints is…not from a reality congruent with our own.

This doesn’t seem applicable in your situation, but if Siri answers your question with text you can always say “Read it.” and she will read it out for you. (In case other people don’t know this.)