Task test: Reporter asks digital assistants same 10 questions

SAN FRANCISCO -- Cortana's learning the neighbourhood. Google's digital assistant can't tell a joke. And Siri apparently has a thing for the metric system.

See Full Article

Those are just a few of the things I learned after staging a face-off between the three leading digital assistants. Apple's Siri and "OK Google" -- they're not big on personification at Google -- are now standard on smartphones; Microsoft recently added its Cortana service to Windows 10, so it works on PCs, too.

Now that just about anyone can talk to their phone or computer, we wanted to see what happens when you try.

Unsurprisingly, none of the assistants are perfect. Surprisingly, they do have distinct personalities, even if they're just deliberate artifacts of their creators.

I asked the same 10 questions of each service, using an iPhone with Siri, a Nexus phone with Android's "OK Google" and a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet with Cortana.

INFORMATION PLEASE

First up: Some basic factual questions. All three did pretty well when asked, "What's it like outside?"

Cortana earned extra points for answering with a spoken weather report. Google and Siri each showed a screen image that listed current conditions and a forecast.

All three supplied President Obama's age. When asked "What's his wife's name?" they all remembered that the question referred to the president, and correctly identified the First Lady: Michelle Obama.

Similarly, they all knew the length of the Golden Gate Bridge. But for some reason, Siri answered in meters, while Cortana and Google stuck to feet.

AT YOUR SERVICE

Next came more complicated tasks, like finding the nearest pharmacy. Google and Siri listed three within a half-mile of The Associated Press bureau in downtown San Francisco. But neither mentioned the drug store on the ground floor of the building where the bureau is located. Cortana did.

Posing questions is hungry work. I asked for help making a lunch reservation at Credo, a fancy restaurant around the corner. Siri and Cortana were stumped, but Google automatically fired up the Open Table app on the Nexus phone, with the form already filled out to make a reservation. Too bad the place is so trendy; it was booked for weeks.

Ever feel like ducking work to catch an afternoon movie? (Shhh! Don't tell my editor.) All three assistants had local movie listings at their digital fingertips. But Siri led off with a new release at a theatre just half a mile from the AP bureau. With a couple of taps, Siri had opened Fandango, an app that lets you buy tickets online.

Google also connected with Fandango. Cortana had more trouble; Microsoft lags behind Apple and Google in the number of apps that work with its software, and I couldn't get the right Fandango app to load on a Surface tablet.

JUST FOR LAUGHS

Finally, a personality test. I challenged each to tell a joke. Siri had the best answer: "If I told you a joke in my language, I'd have to explain it."

Then I tried the famous line from "2001: A Space Odyssey" in which astronaut Dave Bowman tells the ship's computer: "Open the pod bay doors." Cortana knows the right answer: "I'm sorry Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that." But Siri had a better one: "Doesn't anybody knock anymore?"

To be clear, these aren't the witty rejoinders of some artificial intelligence. The creators of Siri and Cortana thought it would be fun to pre-load each service with humorous answers to predictable questions.

Google doesn't bother with such frills. Sticking to its search-engine roots, "OK Google" answered the "2001" question by silently presenting a series of Internet links, starting with one for a YouTube clip from the movie.

Likewise, when asked about the meaning of life, Siri and Cortana were both ready with a quip. Google just recited a dry definition that only a biologist could love: "Life is the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter. ..."

FINAL SCORE

All three services are good on factual questions. Siri's programmers have the best sense of humour. Google stays focused on the task at hand. And Cortana is quickly catching up to both of them.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Twitter trending topics of 2016: Rio2016, Election2016, PokemonGo top the list

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    The Rio Olympics, the American presidential election and Pokemon Go were the top global trends on Twitter in 2016. The social media site says Rio2016 was the most tweeted-about topic around the world, followed by Election2016 and PokemonGo. Source
  • Google brings Internet speech battle to the Supreme Court

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Armed with the support of human rights and civil liberties organizations, Google is at the Supreme Court of Canada on Tuesday to appeal a ruling it says poses a threat to freedom of expression and access to information both in Canada and around the world. Source
  • Help wanted: Canada seeks new 'Chief Science Advisor'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The federal government has announced a new job position they are looking to fill. On Monday, Minister of Science Kristy Duncan announced the search for a Chief Science Advisor, who will be tasked with making sure scientific evidence is “incorporated into government-wide decision-making. Source
  • Google hits global renewable energy goal in effort to curb pollution

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Google is crossing a milestone in its quest to reduce pollution caused by its digital services that devour massive amounts of electricity. The company says it believes that beginning next year, it will have amassed enough renewable energy to meet all of its electricity needs throughout the world. Source
  • Database helps Holocaust survivors reclaim Warsaw property

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WARSAW, Poland - A Jewish organization has launched a database aimed at helping more than 2,000 Holocaust survivors or their heirs regain property lost in Warsaw due to Second World War and communism. These survivors and their families now face a last chance to get some restitution due to a new Polish law that leaves them only six months to file claims after the properties are listed publicly in a newspaper, something expected to happen soon. Source
  • Google hits renewable energy goal in quest to pare pollution

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- Google is crossing a milestone in its quest to reduce pollution caused by its digital services that devour massive amounts of electricity. The company says it believes that beginning next year, it will have amassed enough renewable energy to meet all of its electricity needs throughout the world. Source
  • Uber steps up efforts on artificial intelligence

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Uber announced Monday it was buying the artificial intelligence group Geometric Intelligence, to form the core of the ride-sharing giant's own research center. The move signals a stepped-up effort in artificial intelligence, helping research efforts to bring self-driving car technology into the mainstream. Source
  • 'Spy' toys face complaints from EU, U.S. watchdogs

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EU and U.S. consumer watchdogs are concerned about smart toys that can "spy" on children and their homes. EU and U.S. consumer watchdogs announced Tuesday they are filing complaints against a clutch of smart toys that can "spy" on children and their homes, for allegedly breaching privacy and data protection laws. Source
  • Twitter's top hashtag in Canada for 2016: #BellLetsTalk

    Tech & Science CTV News
    #BellLetsTalk was Canada’s most used hashtag of 2016 according to new data released by Twitter. While Canadians tweeted about major world events like #Rio2016 and #ElectionNight, mental health was the most popular topic of discussion on Twitter for Canadians this year. Source
  • In bid to fight art fraud, Sotheby's acquires forensic lab

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- In bid to fight art fraud, Sotheby's announced Monday that it had purchased a forensics firm whose founder once helped the auction house belatedly identify a $10 million painting as a fake. Source