I have been flying the flag for northern sayings against the endless encroachment of Americanisms into our language, and I’ve started with those clever people who work at Apple.
A couple of years back they installed something called Siri on iPhones and iPads, allowing users to ask, for instance, “do I need an umbrella this afternoon?” and receive a reply like “it sure looks like rain”. They later changed “sure” to the more English-sounding “certainly”, but there’s been a bit of a relapse at Apple and we now have to greet our device by saying “Hey Siri!” as though we’re high-fiving the thing on some Midwest campus.
This is a rum do, so I emailed the company asking for more regional variations and I’m pleased to announce that northern folk will, at some point in the next few years, be able to say “Ey oop, Siri”. Special provision will be made for the good folk of South Yorkshire who naturally prefer “Awreet Siri”.
Okay, I made that up, but the speed at which smart personal assistants like Siri and competing services such as Google Now and Microsoft Cortana have developed in just a few years is frightening. And we should prepare for them to get even smarter, because last week Apple announced it had bought VocalIQ, a small UK company that has developed a way for people to have a natural dialogue with their phones, computers and even TV sets.
Says VocalIQ’s website: “It is unrealistic to expect seven billion people to start talking to machines in a way mandated by a programmer. Dialogue systems need to learn how people speak, and not the other way round.”
At the same time, Apple bought another small artificial intelligence company, Perceptio, which specialises in image recognition. This means that I’ll no longer need a fingerprint or a passcode to unlock my phone. It’ll recognise me at once and, when the VocalIQ technology is adopted, actually be able to greet me with a cheery “Ey oop Roger”.
I simultaneously feel both excited and terrified by this technology. At the moment I use it in a very limited way, like in Leeds last week when I asked my phone “where can I get a pizza around here?” and Siri replied: “Here is what I found.” On the screen were listed the five nearest pizza joints, complete with Yelp and TripAdvisor ratings, and one tap gave me a map that took me right from where I stood to a perfect pepperoni.
But what if you ask it something serious? I tried a simple question: is the Northern Powerhouse just a political stunt by the Tories? “I can’t answer that,” replied Siri diplomatically, but in future I expect a rather more forthright answer.
Because, you see, Siri will have noted that I regularly visit the New Statesman and Guardian websites and will reply: “In a nutshell, yes. I mean, get real! Would you believe anything George Osborne says? Isn’t he just trying to devolve more powers and tax-raising abilities away from Westminster so he can withdraw more central government funds from the region and then blame northern Labour politicians when it all goes pear-shaped?”
Of course, if you read the Spectator and Telegraph websites you will get a rather different reply. Clever, eh?
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter