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.

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

  • Global accounting firm Deloitte hacked

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Global accounting firm Deloitte said on Monday it was the victim of a cyberattack that affected the data of a small number of clients, providing few details on the breach. Deloitte said in a statement that attackers accessed data from the company's email platform, confirming some details in a report by the Guardian newspaper, which broke news of the hack on Monday. Source
  • London studying ways to reduce new fatberg under Chinatown

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LONDON -- British engineers are studying ways to dispose of yet another oversize "fatberg" threatening London's aged sewers. Stuart White of Thames Water says the latest fat blob is located in a busy area beneath Chinatown near London's famed Leicester Square. Source
  • Invasive grass carp threatening Lake Erie

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOLEDO, Ohio -- Researchers have fresh evidence that invasive grass carp are swimming and spawning near the mouth of a river that flows into Lake Erie. Their next step is figuring out how to stop it from gaining a foothold and devouring wetland plants along the shoreline and underwater vegetation in the lake that shelters native fish. Source
  • Australia to create its own space agency

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia announced on Monday it would create its own space agency to increase its share of the $330 billion space economy. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the agency would be part of Australia's development of an innovation and science economy. Source
  • 7 right whales entangled this summer, new data shows

    Tech & Science CBC News
    New figures show at least seven North Atlantic right whales got entangled in fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer, and two died as a result. Two of the whales were freed by rescuers, including Joe Howlett, who was killed during one of the missions. Source
  • Astronomers discover an asteroid is actually two — and that it's also a comet

    Tech & Science CBC News
    When is an asteroid not just an asteroid? When it's a comet. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found that an asteroid discovered in 2006 is actually two — and that it sprouts a tail just like a comet. Source
  • The Long Dark is a fiercely Canadian video game. Why aren't there more like it?

    Tech & Science CBC News
    You've crashed your plane into the side of a mountain on a remote island in the Canadian north. Your partner is nowhere to be found. A geomagnetic disaster has rendered phones, radios and all other electronic equipment inoperable. Source
  • Something new under the sun: A binary asteroid that's also a comet

    Tech & Science CBC News
    When is an asteroid not just an asteroid? When it's a comet. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found that an asteroid discovered in 2006 is actually two — and that it sprouts a tail just like a comet. Source
  • Rumbling volcano looms over Indonesian tourism hotspot

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BALI, Indonesia - Mount Agung on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali is threatening to erupt after more than half a century of quiet. Here's what you need to know. IS BALI STILL SAFE FOR TOURISTS? Source
  • Rumbling volcano looms over Indonesian tourism hot spot

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BALI, Indonesia - Mount Agung on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali is threatening to erupt after more than half a century of quiet. Here's what you need to know. IS BALI STILL SAFE FOR TOURISTS? Source