How many of you have your phone lying next to you in bed at night? Or feel a form of anxiety or emptiness when your phone is not around or not working? Chances are you recognize this. You can argue whether this is a bad thing or not, and though many will probably have the realization with a sense of embarrassment, the fact remains that most of us are in some way emotionally attached to our mobile phone.
There is a quite logical explanation for this. Over the years our phones grew from a useful communication tool to an entity that is an icon of who we are. With its contacts, messages, photos, high scores, likes and dislikes it is the embodiment of our social and emotional life. Imagine a situation where you accidently swapped your phone with somebody else’s. You would either be very curious to take a look inside this person’s life or you would feel awkward knowing that you can. Possibly both. Even more so, you would likely feel very uncomfortable knowing that this other person has this embodiment of your life in their hands. Not because it contains a list of phone numbers that could also be found in a phone book, but because it is such a personal part of your life that you might not even be comfortable sharing it with others. All these emotions prove that there is in fact something more going on than having a convenient tool to stay in touch with others.
With the iPhone 4S, Apple introduced Siri to the world, the intelligent voice recognition assistant. And though the technology might not be entirely new, as with other Apple introductions, it is the first time that this technology will be put to use by the masses. I don’t really want to get into the discussion on whether or not Siri will deliver on its expectations, but there’s a big chance that (eventually) this form of interaction with our phone will happen on a big scale. Especially now that Apple put its money on it. The technology will evolve and it won’t be long before you have comfortable conversations with your phone without choosing your words carefully to make it understand you. Interaction will go fluently and you’ll be able to personalize your assistant by choosing your own name for it and downloading custom voice packs (better start working on that Mr. T synth).
What is that biggest infidelity cliché again? Right. The boss and his secretary. Let’s just say that when two people spend a lot of time together and know intimate details about each other, a certain bond develops. There is, hopefully, no sexual power play going on between you and your phone but you might get my point. Siri might become the one that you talk to most consistently throughout the day. The one that knows all your likes and dislikes, the one that knows your favorite restaurant, where you’ve been and where you are, the one that is always with you and the one that wishes you a good night every evening when you tell it to set your alarm. (And let’s not forget: it never argues with you and always has your best interest at heart). I’m very carefully referring to Siri as “it” here but in many reviews, podcasts and YouTube demos I have already heard many say: “she uses information from…” or “she seems to respond best by…”, etc.
There is no denying that we tend to grow emotionally attached to our phones. And I for one am very interested to see what kind of influence the introduction of Siri will turn out to have on this matter. Will people start seeing their phone as a person? Because that is clearly the metaphor Apple is going for with Siri and her human voice and human way of answering (not: “-no results-” but: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t find any information on that.”). How often will the iPhone’s processor have to analyze sentences like “thank you” or “thanks for that”, a politeness that is completely irrelevant to say to a lifeless object but feels like the proper thing to say to a person who helped you out with something.
I am sure people graduated on the concept of emotional attachment to artificial intelligence, a topic that probably has been around ever since we started fantasizing about robots. The remarkable thing about last October 4th is though, that it marks the date when, for the first time in history, millions of people started using artificial intelligence in their everyday life. And for the first time we will find out how (or whether) the average human grows feelings for something that talks like a person but is in fact nothing more than an arrangement of plastic, metal and silicon.