Siri and Cortana on the desktop: Features or bugs to be squashed?

Personal digital assistants are an amusement best served on phones and tablets

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The words “personal digital assistant” bring to mind visions of Stepford Wives speaking in monotone unison, beckoning with waggling index fingers, to come hither and ask them anything.

And for Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, their siren’s song, while tempting, should be limited to mobile devices and avoided at all costs on the desktop.

Everyone looks like a schmuck talking into their tablet or phone. You look equally challenged talking into your desktop computer. It doesn’t mean you should do it.

Before the latest rash of Windows 10 updates from Microsoft, Cortana was effectively banished from all of my Win 10 computers including laptops with built-in microphones. After the latest updates, Cortana came back, begging, “Ask me anything.”

I don’t direct many verbal questions to my desktops, except when I’m displeased with some aspect of their performance. And whenever I need to know something, Google is always there (unless the power goes out).

Siri is not foisted upon us at default installation. If you want to enable it later, you can. That’s how personal digital assistants on the desktop should be: Don’t call me, I’ll call you. I’ll take it one step further and suggest personal digital assistants should be obscene and not heard.

I thought I broke up with Cortana. But after the latest Microsoft Win 10 updates, and much like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Cortana came roaring back to open up one more can of crazy on me.

Ask me anything


Well, ok, “Why did you come back, then, Cortana?”


Oops, wait. No microphone and my speakers are off.

She can’t hear me. And I can’t hear her. I suppose if you have a personal digital assistant on your desktop, it’s not as bad if all they can do in terms of nagging irritants is to display words like, “Ask me anything.”

Personal digital assistants on desktop computers are the latest evidence of the challenges PC makers face in trying to stall diving sales of this fading hardware segment.

The marketing studies and research that persuaded Apple and Microsoft these features are good ideas will eventually go the way of the latest political polls that have Clinton leading one day, and the next, Trump winning by a landslide.

Marketing studies, like political polls, are just good fun on slow news days. So are surveys that are pushed out by email every time we make a purchase or call for customer service or tech support.

How was your experience today?

“If you can answer a few questions or write a review, it’ll help out our other customers.”

While the first survey solicitation you ever received might have been fun, each one that came afterwards wasn’t -- the same as how it’ll be with questions you may ask Siri or Cortana on your desktop.

Personal digital assistants on desktop computers could signify that talking to ourselves is not so bad. Well, we’re actually not technically talking to ourselves; we’re talking to Siri and Cortana, so perhaps I should take that back.

What I’m not taking back is the further isolation, loneliness and deterioration of social skills that will result from using Siri, Cortana and the like on desktops for those of us fortunate enough to have use of our hands for keyboarding. And that’s not something I need to ask Siri or Cortana about, either.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
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