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VOL. 128 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vic Fleming

When Siri Speaks

By Vic Fleming

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My smartphone was, of course, in my pocket. Apparently, though, I’d unknowingly pressed the button that activates it. Through my judicial robe and the fabric of my trousers. The lawyer in front of me wound up his remarks. There was a longer-than-normal pause.

And then, enhanced by the mike and amp that sit with me at the bench, a familiar voice said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that.” The lawyers recognized Siri, spontaneously erupting in laughter. I could not but chuckle myself. “Where’d she come from?” I asked, struggling now visibly to turn off the phone.

“I don’t recognize Hershey Commons,” Siri continued before I was able to banish her back to her cyber resting place. I did not hold myself in contempt of court. The necessary intent was lacking. Besides, we had a large docket, and it would have taken some time to get another judge to come in and take over while I tried to find a bail bondsman to get me out pending appeal.

“Siri,” I’m told, is Norwegian for “beautiful woman who leads you to victory.” An online site describes it/her as “an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator.” Siri is an app from the Apple stable that employs “natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of Web services.”

More and more, I find myself trying Siri out before digging in to research something on my own. In Charlotte a few weeks ago, I told Siri to “search for Five Guys.” She replied, almost instantaneously, “I found Five Guys Burgers and Fries. It looks like it’s pretty close to you.” One click on the phone and she was giving me directions on how to get there.

People have told me that Siri adapts to one’s individual preferences over time, “personalizing” her responses when appropriate. Recently, while driving home from the golf course, I was pondering an old John Prine song, “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian.” The first line or two of the song came back to me immediately:

“Well, I packed my bags and bought myself a ticket,

To the land of the tall palm tree.

Goodbye, Old Milwaukee.

Hello Waikiki.”

At that point. memory failed me. I thought perhaps Siri could find this song on a website, YouTube perhaps, and either play it or cue it up to be played. To test my theory I said, “Search for ‘Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian.’”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that.”

I said it more slowly this time: “Search for ‘Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian.’”

After a moment, I heard Siri say, “I’m not that kind of personal assistant, Victor.” And, from the tone in her voice, I knew she wanted to slap my face.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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