Siri v. Cortana v. OK Google: Digital assistants square off on 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.

Though none of the assistants are perfect, 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.


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.


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.


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. ..."


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.


Latest Tech & Science News

  • SpaceX's Elon Musk elaborates on plan to colonize Mars

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has given more details about his plan to colonize Mars. Musk answered questions on Reddit on Sunday. The session was a follow up to Musk's comments at a space conference in Mexico last month during which he unveiled his plan to send up to 1 million people to Mars within the next 40 to 100 years. Source
  • Why robots are key to redefining the meaning of 'Made in China'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BEIJING -- The Canbot can say its name, respond to voice commands, and "dance" as it plays Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Other robots China is displaying at the World Robot Conference can play badminton, sand cellphone cases and sort computer chips. Source
  • Univeristy of Maine professor dies conducting research in Antarctica

    Tech & Science CTV News
    ORONO, Maine -- A University of Maine professor has died while conducting research in Antarctica. The university says 50-year-old Gordon Hamilton died Saturday when the snowmobile he was riding hit a crevasse and he fell 100 feet. Source
  • Surfer is third Australian shark attack victim in a month

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SYDNEY, Australia -- A surfer sustained minor injuries on Monday in the third shark attack off New South Wales state north of Sydney in a month, a witness said. The surfer's injuries were "not that serious," former state lawmaker Ian Cohen told Australian Broadcasting Corp. Source
  • Forest tours offered in Chinese to promote conservation in B.C.

    Tech & Science CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- Conservationists have their eyes on a demographic that hasn't been tapped into before in terms of educating people about British Columbia's old growth forests. About half a million people in B.C.'s Lower Mainland are Chinese-language speakers, yet most environmental programs and tours are offered in English only, said Ken Wu, executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance. Source
  • U.S. presidential election uses hodge-podge of voting technology

    Tech & Science CBC News
    When Americans go the polls on Nov. 8, they'll be casting votes using a wide array of technology, from touchscreens to pen and paper. In light of Donald Trump's claims of election fraud — and with the memory of the disputed presidential election of 2000 still looming — that technology could be under more scrutiny than ever in this year's presidential election. Source
  • Attacks that disrupted Twitter, Paypal, Spotify were just a dry run, hackers say

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Could millions of connected cameras, thermostats and kids' toys bring the internet to its knees? It's beginning to look that way. On Friday, epic cyberattacks crippled a major internet firm, repeatedly disrupting the availability of popular websites across North America and Europe such as Twitter, Netflix and PayPal. Source
  • Attacks on the internet getting bigger and nastier

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Could millions of connected cameras, thermostats and kids' toys bring the internet to its knees? It's beginning to look that way. On Friday, epic cyberattacks crippled a major internet firm, repeatedly disrupting the availability of popular websites across the United States. Source
  • Glenn Greenwald weighs in on WikiLeaks data dump on Clinton

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Two people at the heart of the most earth-shattering leaks of stolen data in the past few years are at odds about how those troves of documents should be handled in public. "You'd have to be a sociopath to think that we ought to just take all of this material and dump it all on the internet without regard to the impact that it will have for innocent people," says Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported on the massive document leak provided to him by former U.S. Source
  • Alberta to spend more to cut methane emissions

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON - Alberta plans to spend more money to cut methane emissions. Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says another $33 million will be added to the $7 million already pledged to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas by 45 per cent by 2025. Source