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

  • Cool facts about 7 Earth-size planets circling single star

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Talk about an Earth-shattering discovery. Scientists have spotted seven Earth-size planets around a nearby star, some or all of which could harbour water and possibly life. That's the biggest cluster of planets like this yet to be found. Source
  • Apple 'spaceship' headquarters readies for boarding

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The process of moving more than 12,000 people to a new campus that Jobs envisioned as a "center for creativity and collaboration" was expected to continue late into the year. A theater on the new Apple Park campus was named in honor of Jobs, who would have turned 62 on Feb. Source
  • 'Scared to death:' Study finds Arctic killer whales intimidate narwhal

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A study has concluded that the increased presence of killer whales in Arctic waters is intimidating narwhal into drastically changing their behaviour. It's another symptom of how climate change is remaking the delicate northern environment. Source
  • 7 Earth-like planets found orbiting star 39 light-years away

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Scientists have discovered what looks the best place so far where life as we know it may exist outside our own solar system. Seven Earth-sized planets, all of which could contain water, have been found orbiting a small star 39 light-years away. Source
  • SpaceX delays delivery to International Space Station after navigation error

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A navigation error forced SpaceX to delay its shipment to the International Space Station on Wednesday, following an otherwise smooth flight from NASA's historic moon pad. SpaceX's supply ship, the Dragon, was less than a mile from the orbiting outpost when a problem cropped up in the GPS system. Source
  • New Apple headquarters to have theatre named for Steve Jobs

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CUPERTINO, Calif. -- Apple has announced that its new headquarters will open for employees in the spring and will include a theatre named for its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. Apple says in a news release on its website that the process of moving its 12,000 employees from its old digs in Cupertino, California, to the new Apple Park nearby will begin in April and will take more than six months to complete. Source
  • Tiny plastic particles from clothing, tires clogging oceans: report

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Invisible particles washed off products like synthetic clothing and car tires account for up to a third of the plastic polluting oceans, impacting eco-systems and human health, a top conservationist body warned Wednesday. Unlike the shocking images of country-sized garbage patches floating in the oceans, the microplastic particles that wash off textiles and roadways leave the waterways looking pristine. Source
  • NASA to reveal discovery 'beyond our solar system'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Astronomers at NASA are poised to announce a major discovery involving planets that orbit a star outside our solar system. The announcement will be streamed live at 1 p.m. ET on CTVNews.ca. That’s when more details will be revealed, to coincide with the publication of a a paper on the findings in the journal Nature. Source
  • 'Ultracool' star orbited by 7 Earth-like planets offers hope for alien life

    Tech & Science CTV News
    It might be the ultra-coolest new real estate opportunity in the universe – if it's not already occupied. Scientists have discovered seven Earth-like planets orbiting a single red dwarf star approximately 40 light-years away, in an "extraordinarily rich" planetary system that could yield evidence of alien life within the next decade. Source
  • NASA to reveal major discovery 'beyond our solar system'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Astronomers at NASA are poised to announce a major discovery involving planets that orbit a star outside our solar system. The announcement will be streamed live at 1 p.m. ET on CTVNews.ca. That’s when more details will be revealed, to coincide with the publication of a a paper on the findings in the journal Nature. Source