March of the Mediocre Robots

Nick Bilton’s New York Times article yesterday, With Apple’s Siri, A Romance Gone Sour, describes how Bilton has become disenchanted with the imperfect responses of the Siri voice-based assistant on the iPhone 4S. I am convinced that much of the “Robot Smog” that will gradually overtake us will be in the form of mediocrity: robots that do not quite improve our life, but are thrust upon us anyway. Consider your latest wrestling match with an automated checkout line at the grocery store, or the most pleasant IVR conversation you had with a pseudo-flight reservation agent on the telephone with a major airline carrier.  We live in a world where profit margins can dictate technological uptake, even when technology is locally frustrating. Of couse, this trend does not intensify for all applications. Siri and Android’s counterparts will gradually improve. But, what if we constantly push our boundaries of use even as they improve, ever-testing the fringe where they perform worse than all the alternatives we comfortably use today?


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