In sex work, a new girl always piques interest, even if the things she does aren't unique. So it goes with tech gadgets, too, and thus everyone's excited about Apple's new iPhone application Siri. What is Siri? It's a personal-assistance app that uses natural-language voice recognition. Apple claims Siri "understands what you say, knows what you mean, and even talks back." Intelligent machines with a hint of personality have been around a while, but they've made people a trifle nervous ever since HAL refused to open the pod-bay doors. Apple wags even programmed the "I'm afraid I can't do that" line into the software. However, perhaps to soften any anxiety, Apple gave the app a feminine name and voice.
I'm not a programmer, but I know from personal experience what happens when you make a female voice instantly and anonymously accessible: People start talking dirty to her. Since computer geeks are widely recognized as the most sex-obsessed people on earth, they foresaw this and loaded Siri with snappy answers. I wish I'd had them around when I had a published phone number. Just as they do with Siri, people used to call me and ask odd questions, confess intimate secrets, and ask for guidance on unusual problems.
These weren't prospective clients, you understand—these were people treating me like a reference librarian for the dark side. If I was in the mood, I'd answer them. Like Siri, I had many callers ask where to buy drugs. (My response: "Amsterdam.") I had male callers solicit my opinion on whether they had a small penis, usually offering very specific measurements. ("Stop comparing yourself to porn performers.") "Should I get a sex change?" ("Here's a phone number for a therapist specializing in gender issues.") And, once, "How do I find a hit man?" (I hung up, a luxury poor Siri doesn't have.)
Then there were callers who wanted to ask me personal questions. To certain men, a female entity who is available and yet untouchable, one who might be coaxed into a confession of her own, is an irresistible challenge. At least I am, in fact, a woman. In the case of Siri, while the voice is female, those guys are actually engaging in sexual banter with a bunch of computer geeks—many of whom are probably not beautiful women.
People crave personal attention and understanding, but they fear judgment and rejection. That's why the sex industry exists, of course, and that's why any situation where one can feel as though you're getting the former without risking the latter is compellingly attractive. I'd prefer to think humans can still outperform machines in this area. However, in a world accustomed to instant downloads and constant multitasking, it's only a matter of time before someone rolls out the ultimate all-in-one combination: a Sirilike program housed in a robot sex doll. Let's hope they won't program it with any unsettling quotes from 2001: A Space Odyssey.