In the past few days, I’ve come to rue my decision to wait to upgrade my iPhone to the new one with Siri, the artificial intelligence Personal Assistant. I am happy with my phone, and I told myself that a purchase of a new one was rather silly and self-indulgent, something that could wait for Christmas or my birthday. Practical. Sensible. Stupid.

Now, as I’m driving down the road, I think how many times I could be getting other things done, make audio memos, and the like, while having Siri there to help. The fact that Siri has a bit of an attitude only makes me want to use this tech more. It’s like having a helpful but snarky friend with you- wait, isn’t that why I have teenagers?

This has been going on for a long time…

Back when I was in middle school, using an Apple II, I spent a ridiculously long time programming an interactive psychologist program called “Eliza” into the computer. There were books of code in basic, and you could essentially type these into the machine and re-create programs, for free. Eliza was one of them. Yet even though I knew all of her responses and a few that I added on my own, having the computer interact to your comments and suggestions seemed just a little magical. It was like Twitter in some ways- ask a question or make a silly statement, and you get a one line, snarky response back. What’s not to love?

Now Eliza can talk back, orally, with Siri.

This made me think that what we’re really doing here is falling in love with our gadgets. We’re making emotional attachments, and they’re even stronger when the gadget can respond to you as a human. There’s a great article from the New York Times last summer about folks who fall in love with their GPS voice
– and that this isn’t uncommon. One of the best passages was:

Dr. Nass’s research shows that humans respond to machines as we respond to human beings. We talk back to them, get angry at them. But men and women respond to machines differently. Dr. Nass conducted a study of people playing automated blackjack in which the dealer had the ability to express happiness when the player won and sadness when the player lost. The dealer could also express those feelings for itself.

“Here’s the great result,” Dr. Nass said. “Women like it best when the dealer cares about both parties, or neither. They want a relationship with the machine. But the men like it best when the machine cares only about them. When women hear this, they say, ‘Duh!’ ”

This research helps explain my attachment to my GPS. Unlike my wife, my GPS voice is completely subservient. She gives me something I want and doesn’t ask anything in return. All I have to do is plug her in every now and then and she’s happy.

Siri just helps us along a path where we’re already programmed by nature to go- to have a social relationship with the things we interact with. We want to have someone take care of us- like the GPS while driving at night- and then not, when she’s becoming a nag and you know there’s a more efficient way to get across town. It’s like having a mother/best friend/girlfriend you can turn off when you want to- something I don’t think many of us could try in real life, and certainly not over the Thanksgiving dinner table.

That’s probably the reason why some products succeed and some don’t- the ones that help us, are reliable, and then get out of the way and let us go on about our business- these products encourage and thrive with emotional attachment, while others – the ones we struggle to make work- don’t.   Notice how Apple has people literally falling in love and anthropomorphizing almost everything they make, but I’ve never heard of anyone falling in love with their Zune or their PC in quite the same way.  That’s not to take sides in the Mac vs. PC wars, but just to say that PC’s don’t thrive on affection and attachment- they are more like hammers- there to get the job done, where Macs seem to inspire more feelings, for a number of reasons.

And if you still doubt that interactivity is fundamentally changing the way we feel about gadgets, look at this video about a one year old and a magazine versus an iPad:

And this one of Morris Lessmore, a new interactive book app:

The game has changed again, my friends. The future is all about emotions, interactivity and delight.

And as a special treat for those with a sense of =ironic humor….

(For my kids and their love of Portal, watch the Gladios/Siri video below)