Siri and flatulence

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An acquaintance of mine has a new iPhone, which he carries in a pocket that is (relevantly) below waist level. He has discovered something that dramatically illustrates the difference between (i) responding to speech and (ii) responding to speech as humans do, on the basis of knowing that it is speech.

What he has found (fortunately on occasions when he has been alone with his phone) is that when he farts he will often hear Siri's voice saying, "I'm sorry Dave, I didn't catch that." (His name is not Dave; names other than Siri in this post have been changed to avoid revealing any individual's medical information.)

The voice recognition system in the iPhone operates entirely on the basis of acoustic physics, not at all on linguistic phonetics. It attempts to match sounds with signal types that it has been trained to respond to in certain ways, but beware of imagining that it knows when you are saying something, or even what "saying something" means. The truth is that it cannot tell the difference between a labiodental fricative and an anal fricative. Let alone distinguish between when you're saying something sensible and when you're talking out of your ass.

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