Siri Gets Picky: Tells You To Ask Shorter Questions

A number of websites have reported this week that Siri is now advising users to ask shorter questions — but is doing it in a lighthearted way. Apparently, Apple's servers have a difficult time parsing long requests. CNET notes the irony in that Siri was originally touted as being able to understand natural language. CNET and iLounge say when making the request, Siri prefaces it with a quotation from a famous individual about the value of being concise. And then it says, "Can you ask me that again, in fewer words?" or "How about a shorter question?" On the one hand, it's disappointing that users must accommodate themselves to Siri rather than the other way around.

 But on the other hand, getting this bit of advice is probably better than Siri simply saying it didn't understand, or worse, giving you search results that aren't related to your request.

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I like the examples of quotations CNET and iLounge give:

"If you bring that sentence in for a fitting, I can have it shortened by Wednesday." (Hawkeye)

"A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts." (William Strunk)

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." (Thomas Jefferson)

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference begins June 10, and many are expecting Apple to make announcements in regard to Siri. Clearly, it's becoming more central to Apple's human-machine interface, and many are expecting Apple will soon integrate Siri into its line of Mac computers. Apple has to keep moving ahead with Siri, not only because it's a central aspect of the interface, but the company is also being pushed by Google, which keeps enhancing the natural language understanding of its offerings. This week, Google announced that natural language queries will be available when you do searches on your desktop computer using Google's Chrome browser.

According to Mashable, the update isn't available yet, but they were able to give a hands-on review. Plus, they've posted the demo Google gave at the event. For the hands-on review, Chrome was able to answer several questions correctly, but would stumble a bit on the follow-up questions. Still, it's impressive how far things have come, and how Apple and Google are leading the way. Voice search is just going to keep getting better, and our phones and computers will get better at being more conversational. In the meantime, we need to be sure we're concise when asking Siri questions.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.