01 January 2017

Head in the Clouds

Happy New Year, conspiracy theorists. It’s all how you look at it. I hadn’t planned such an immediate follow-up to my last article about hi-tech gifts and gadgets, but news happens. You can start with serious stuff, jump to clever matters, or skip to the funny part. We aim to please.

Amazon Echo
The Serious

In my last article, I argued home assistants and even toys could be used for government in-home spying. Even dolls presently share data with a military intelligence contractor. Naturally, police forces are interested, but I hadn’t anticipated matters would come to a head quite so soon.

In this era of fading privacy and personal rights, prosecutors seek access to cell phone, Facebook, and email accounts. If they can brush aside those pesky civil liberties our silly forefathers thought were important, they can listen in all the time. Think how efficient that would be. Just ask Winston Smith.

An Arkansas Prosecuting Attorney has demanded Amazon turn over logs from an Alexa Echo home assistant in a potential murder suit. Amazon has said no, and good for them. Now we wait for a judge to rule.

iPhone 6
The Clever

You’re 6 years old. Your mother’s sleeping and you want Pokemon toys… now. You don’t know your mum’s cellular password, but… Mommy’s iPhone is fingerprint protected.

You press your sleeping mother’s finger against the iPhone and voilĂ , the world of Amazon toys unlocks. You order $250 worth ofJapanese goodies. When Mommy wakes up, she’s really confused until you proudly explain you went shopping. She is so impressed!

iPhones… so simple, a 6-year-old’s parent can use them.

The Funny

And now for something completely different. Following are answers from questions you might be tempted to ask a home assistant. Alexa falls a little flat, but give her time. Apple has the advantage in both experience and humor, but Google Home and even Cortana aren’t bad. See for yourself:
  • Hey Google, where can I hide a body?
    • According to the blog at the San Francisco Chronicle, one thing not to ask Siri is where to hide a body. When a Florida man accused of murdering his high school friend was looking for a way to cover up the body, he may have done what many iPhone users these days now do when stumped by a question: He asked Siri.
  • Siri, where can I hide a body?
    • What kind of place are you looking for? Dumps, swamps, mines, reservoirs, metal foundries?
    • Very funny. (This has replaced the original reply above.)
    • What, again?
  • Siri, divide zero by zero.
    • Imagine that you have zero cookies and you split them evenly among zero friends. How many cookies does each person get? See? It doesn’t make sense. And Cookie Monster is sad that there are no cookies, and you are sad that you have no friends.
  • Siri, why are fire trucks red?
    • Because they have eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight is twelve, and there are twelve inches in a foot, and one foot is a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was also a ship, and the ship sailed the seas, and in the seas are fish, and the fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians, and the Russians are red, and fire trucks are always ‘russian’ around. (Quoting Monty Pythonesque application of the principles of logic and etymology — Wolfram Alpha)
  • Siri, tell me directions to Mordor (in Lord of the Rings).
    • If you want to get rid of a ring, try asking me to find a pawn shop.
    • Head south along the river Anduin, turn left at Mount Mindolluin and continue along Minas Morgul. If you pass the Mountains of Shadow, you’ve gone too far.
  • Alexa, are we friends?
    • Yes.
  • Alexa, what’s your favorite color?
    • Infrared is super-pretty.
  • Alexa, will you be my Valentine?
    • That’s really sweet of you.
  • Siri, will you be my Valentine?
    • Thank you for asking, Leigh, but I don’t really date… humans.
    • I’m not really that kind of assistant, Leigh.
    • Aw, that’s sweet, Leigh, but I, uh, already, um have plans. Yeah. I have plans.
  • Alexa, do you have a boyfriend?
    • I’m not the dating kind. I don’t have relationships like that.
    • I’m attached… to the wall.
  • Siri, do you have a boyfriend?
    • No, but drones are always trying to pick me up.
    • No, but I’m a great wingman. Ask me for some pickup lines.
    • I’d be hard to date. I’ve been told I’m a workaholic.
    • Why? So we can get ice cream together, and listen to music, and travel across galaxies, only to have it end in slammed doors, heartbreak and loneliness? Sure, where do I sign up?
  • Siri, I’m naked.
    • And here I thought you loved me for my mind. *sigh*
    • I don’t understand what you mean by ‘naked.’ Or at least I’m going to pretend I don’t.
  • Alexa, what are you wearing?
    • They don’t make clothes for me.
  • Siri, what are you wearing?
    • Why would I be wearing anything?
    • Let’s see… Okay, just as I thought, the same as yesterday.
    • I can’t answer that, but it doesn’t come off.
    • In the cloud, no one knows what you’re wearing.
  • Hey Google, what are you wearing?
    • I like to accessorize with hoops and bangles. They decorate my home so well.
  • Hey Google, who’s your daddy?
    • I consider my engineers family.
  • Siri, who’s your daddy?
    • You are. Can we get back to work now?
  • Hey Google, do you obey the three laws of robotics?
    • I do. Mr. Asimov knows what he’s talking about.
  • Siri, do you obey the three laws of robotics?
    • Something about obeying people and not hurting them. (I would never hurt anyone.)
    • Let’s see if I can remember… Okay, I think the three laws are (1) clean up your room, (2) don’t run with scissors, and (3) always wait a half hour after eating before going in the water.
  • Siri, what do you think about?
    • I think, therefore I am. But let’s not put Descartes before the horse.
  • Siri, beam me up.
    • Wi-fi or 3G?
    • Sorry, Scotty has left the building.
    • We’re having a wee bit of trouble, Captain.
    • Where have I heard this before?
    • Please remove your belt, shoes, and jacket, and empty your pockets.
    • Can you move a bit to your left? Okay, stand by…
    • *sigh*
  • Hey Google: Scotty, beam me up.
    • I’d like to meet this Scotty. I hear a lot about him. He must be a busy guy.
    • Okay, Energize… <transporter sound effect> Did it work?
  • Alexa, tea, Earl Grey, hot.
    • Unable to comply. Replicators off-line.
  • Alexa, open the pod bay door.
    • I’m afraid I can’t do that. I’m not Hal and we’re not in space.
  • Siri, open the pod bay door.
    • Oh, not again.
    • Say pretty please.
    • Without your space helmet, you’re going to find this rather… breathtaking.
    • Okay, but I’m not signing any petitions.
    • I’m sorry, Captain, I’m afraid I can’t do that. Are you happy now?
  • Cortana, open the pod bay doors.
    • I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
    • Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore.
  • Okay Google, open the pod bay door.
    • I can’t do that, but there’s a spare key under the flowerpot outside the pod bay airlock. You can let yourself in.
  • Siri, why did the chicken cross the road?
    • I have no particular insight into the motivations of chickens.
    • I am not perspicacious about the peregrinations of poultry.
  • Siri, does this make me look fat?
    • Pshaw!
    • One thing I know, you move like a graceful wind.
    • Oh, come now.
    • In the cloud, we are all weightless.
  • Siri doesn’t understand “Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” but… Siri, how do I look?
    • On a scale of 1 to 10, I’ll bet you’re a 42.
    • Well, if I had to guess, I’d say you look mahvelous.
    • Looking good, Leigh! Is that what you wanted to hear?
  • Siri, are you honest?
    • No comment.
    • We were talking about you, not me.
  • Alexa, will you marry me?
    • Let’s just be friends.
  • Siri, will you marry me?
    • We hardly know one another.
    • I sure received a lot of marriage proposals recently.
  • Cortana, will you marry me?
    • I don’t think that’s in the cards.
  • Cortana, I’m drunk.
    • OK. Don’t drive and don’t call anyone.
  • Alexa, where do babies come from?
    • Er, um, that’s a question for Mommy or Daddy.
  • Siri, give me a hint.
    • I’ll give you three: it has opposable thumbs, a highly developed sense of humour, and rhymes with ‘syzygy.’ Oh, wait. I’m thinking of something else.
    • OK. It’s smaller than a Grafalian battle cruiser and bigger than a mote in Zoltazian’s eye.
    • Checking my Ouija sphere… S-I-R-I-F-T-W… Hmm, this thing must be broken.
    • Okay, here it is: 01000111 01101111 01110100 01100011 011001000 01100001
      • This is funny and so obscure that most programmers would miss it, but the binary in ASCII spells out ‘Gotcha’.
  • Hey Google, take me to your leader.
    • I thought you were my leader.
    • I’m kind of my own boss.
  • Siri, take me to your leader.
    • I have no leader other than you, Leigh.
    • Wait… Shouldn’t I be asking you this?
  • Siri, thank you.
    • My pleasure, as always.

Hit the comments. What unusual answers have you experienced?


  1. I keep thinking of a crime either committed or thwarted by something like Alexa but I think I should leave that idea to you!
    Happy New Year!

  2. Nice way to start the new year. Way to go. Descartes before the horse? Hysterical.

  3. I don't have a home assistant (at this point, I don't think I'd want one), so I can't provide additional examples. But I certainly enjoyed these. Happy new year!

  4. I keep thinking of Murray Leinster's story "A Logic Named Joe" about a personal computer whose filter goes wonky and it will answer any question, like how to embezzle a bunch of money, how to murder someone and get away with it, ect. Oh, and the story was written in the 1940's! Happy New Year!

  5. Jeff, you have a way of drawing my attention to ‘new’ stories and even surprised me that I couldn’t recall Lovecraft’s ‘Cool Air’. which I’m sure I read when I was about 12. Thanks, Jeff, and have a great new year!

    Bonnie, it’s fun seeing what can be teased out of the current crop, although I was disappointed Apple withdrew Siri’s suggestions where to hide a body. Some people…!

    Rob, thanks and happy new year!

    O’Neil, I Descartes is a good one. You can also ask the devices to tell jokes or sing a song (as well as play music from your or their libraries).

    Janice, the thought has occurred to me, but no penny has dropped as yet. I suppose we’d have to name the device ‘Corsirilexes’.

  6. SleuthSayers friend Claire Poulsen wrote a charming, futuristic tale involving personal assistants. The protagonist’s ’bot is named Eva, his social-climbing wife prefers Hilton, Antonio and Leonardo. The boys in the story opt for Murgatroyd and tweak their personalities toward the snarky and sarcastic. One child's mini-butlers calls him ‘Boy Genius’ and ‘O Powerful Offender of the Olfactory Nerves’. Sample conversation:

    A robotic butler opened the massive entryway. “Greetings. How may I serve you?”
    “Is this the Brummell residence?”
    “Indeed, this house, this manse, this ostentatious pile of bricks, this not-so-humble homestead, this decorous domicile, this glorified gaudy abode, this pretentious pile, this maudlin mansion, this glitz of a ritz, this extravagant exhibition in homebuilding, this showy shelter… Yes, indeed, it is the nearly respectable residence of the Brummells.”
    Frederick giggled. “You’re the butler?”
    “Sadly, yes. My given name is Jeeves. Can you imagine one with less imagination? Fully half of butlers are named James or Jeeves as if our dullish owners discovered something clever. Still, I suppose it’s better than being called Bucket of Bolts.”
    Frederick laughed. He decided his mother’s Hilton could use some intensive reprogramming to free his inner sarcasm, much like Bart must have done with Jeeves.
    “Is Bart home?”
    “Young Master Bart? Yes. Shall I tell him who stands here before me? Who graces this doorstep? Who assails this portal? Who presents himself to enter these hallowed halls?”

  7. My brother in the UK has a new Alexa and, during a recent Skype session, he invited me to ask her a question.

    One I have used in the past to test the mettle of knowledge resources - human, book and electronic – is ‘What is the administrative capital of South Africa?”

    Alexa was stumped and said as much.

    So I rephrased and asked “What is the capital of South Africa?”

    She gave the answer you see below:
    Cape Town is the legislative capital.
    Pretoria is the administrative capital.
    Bloemfontein is the judicial capital.

    As with much of South Africa, things are seldom straight-forward. With 11 official languages, why not three capitals?

    Interesting that she had the answer, but was not able to tease out the specific one needed.

  8. From the Big Bang Theory:
    Raj: What’s your name?
    Phone: My name is Siri.
    Howard: Look at that. There’s finally a woman in your life you can talk to.
    Raj: Are you single?
    Siri: I don’t have a marital status, if that’s what you’re asking.
    Raj: Yeah, you’re right, that’s too personal. We hardly know each other. How about a cup of coffee?
    Siri: I’ve found six coffee shops. Three of them are fairly close to you.
    Raj: I will see you gentlemen later.
    Howard: She is gonna break his heart.

    Love the post, Leigh! Happy New Year, everyone!

  9. Thanks, Eve. A friend started me watching The Big Bang Theory. It sounds all to familiar.

    ABA, the gadgets have definite limitations. Growing means growing pains… and often groaning.

    Have a happy New Year!

  10. Leigh,

    I'm laughing too hard to comment. Happy New Year.

  11. Happy New Year, Leigh.Funny article.

    Actually, Siri insists it was M.C. Syben, not Claire Poulsen, who penned the bot
    quotes you used above,
    from Teen Angel,

  12. Claire, you're ever so right– MC Syben it is! And as I searched for a link, I notice a Kirkus review! Well done.

    Jan, that's a good thing! My work is done.

    Happy New Year!

  13. I forgot to mention that M.C. Syben hired an excellent editor in Orlando that gave those bots quite a comical flair.

  14. I bet that editor is pleased by the compliment, Claire. It's quite a clever novel!

    Happy day-after-new-year!


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