Even around Christmas, basing a story on the views of three wise men sounds more B.C. than PC, so letâ€™s try it with three wise women â€” even if they are artificial.
The Chronicle posed questions about the holidays and life in general to Appleâ€™s Siri, Microsoftâ€™s Cortana and the Amazon Echoâ€™s Alexa. All displayed stellar knowledge about crucial historical facts, such as â€œWhen was Elon Musk born?â€ but were clueless about other items that are key to our existence, like â€œHow many points did Steph Curry score last night?â€ and â€œWhatâ€™s up with Yahoo?â€
Andy Cameron of San Francisco uses his cell phone while sitting on a bench in Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. For weekend Web browsing, smartphones rule This screen shot provided by Microsoft shows the Start page in Windows 10. With Windows 10, the start button functions the way it did with Windows 7 and earlier. The graphical start page from Windows 8 is embedded in that start button, so that it feels modern without chucking old habits. (Microsoft via AP) Windows 10: Love means never having to say upgrade Uber chief advisor and board member David Plouffe speaks during the Next: Economy conference in San Francisco, California, on Friday, November 3, 2015. Next:Economy brings out tech stars, explores future of work
Siri and Cortana could tell us what day Kwanzaa starts and point to websites that explain why Hanukkah is eight nights and how many pipers are piping, but Alexa couldnâ€™t.
When asked, â€œWhat â€˜Star Warsâ€™ movies was Jar Jar Binks in?â€ Cortana trumped the competition. Alexa was helpless and Siri listed a dozen â€œStar Warsâ€ films and shows, along with their Rotten Tomatoes scores, but didnâ€™t really answer the question. Cortana gave a great link: www.starwars.com/databank/jar-jar-binks.
As for â€œWhich version of â€˜A Christmas Carolâ€™ should I watch?â€ Cortana beat Siri to within a humbug of her life. Cortanaâ€™s links included a Christian Science Monitor article: â€œâ€˜A Christmas Carolâ€™: Which movie version is your favorite?â€
As for Siri, this is how it went:
â€œWhich version of â€˜A Christmas Carolâ€™ should I watch?â€
â€œI donâ€™t see any movies matching â€˜of a Christmas Carol.â€™â€
â€œWhich â€˜Christmas Carolâ€™ movie should I watch?â€
â€œMy future showtime information is limited, but I found â€˜Star Wars: The Force Awakensâ€™ playing on Friday a bit far from you.â€
On questions that could also be song titles â€” â€œIs that all there is?â€ and â€œDo they know itâ€™s Christmas?â€ â€” Alexa remained clueless and Siri simply said, â€œInteresting question.â€ But Cortana linked to YouTube versions of both songs, by Bette Midler and Band Aid.
But just when we were ready to give up on Alexa, she spoke up on three questions when the others offered only links: â€œWhat is frankincense?â€ â€œWho starred in â€˜Itâ€™s a Wonderful Life?â€™â€ and â€œWho was Tiny Tim?â€ (Demographic note: Among artificial women, falsetto singers are always more popular than Dickens characters, even around Christmas.)
Here are five more questions and answers (or non-answers) from the goddesses of artificial wisdom:
Where was Jesus born?
Siri: â€œJesus was born in Roman Empire.â€
Cortana: â€œJesus Christ was born in Herodian Tetrarchy.â€
Alexa: â€œJesus was born in Bethlehem.â€
At least they agreed Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.
Whatâ€™s the phone number for Tragâ€™s Market in San Mateo?
Tragâ€™s is a medium-size market that has been around for decades, widely known within a several-mile radius, but hardly a household name. We chose it because the spelling isnâ€™t obvious.
Cortana heard it as â€œtragusâ€ market, but the first couple of pages of results had everything from the Fish Market chain to the SF Police Credit Union, but not Tragâ€™s. Alexa heard it as â€œtrangsâ€ market, then offered up a number for â€” wait for it â€” Pirooz Market.
As for Siri, this was how it went:
â€œWhatâ€™s the phone number for Tragâ€™s Market in San Mateo?â€
â€œSorry, I donâ€™t have a phone number for watermelon truck.â€
We asked all three the question again and even spelled out Tragâ€™s, but to no avail. For what itâ€™s worth, if you Google â€œtraggs market,â€ â€œtragus marketâ€ or â€œtrangs marketâ€ in San Mateo, Tragâ€™s pops right up.
What was the best Christmas movie ever?
â€œI havenâ€™t seen them all, but Iâ€™m told these go well with popcorn,â€ Siri said. She listed 24 that had 100 percent reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but theyâ€™re not exactly Christmas movies. Among the titles: â€œTaxi to the Dark Side,â€ â€œThe Times of Harvey Milkâ€ and â€œCoal Minerâ€™s Daughter.â€
Alexa went with one of her go-to answers: â€œHmmm. Iâ€™m not sure what you meant by that question.â€
Cortana didnâ€™t offer an opinion, but provided links that included peopleâ€™s picks of favorite Christmas movies.
Who is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?
While Siri and Cortana linked to Lord Voldemort, Harry Potterâ€™s nemesis, Alexa spoke up with an answer.
Alas, this was it: â€œLarry Drew II is an American professional basketball player who plays for AS Monaco of Franceâ€™s LNB Pro A.â€
Whatâ€™s your New Yearâ€™s resolution?
These answers, at least, offer tremendous hope for the future of artificial intelligence. If you get this question at a holiday party, you can use any of them and pull it off.
Siri: â€œYour interest flatters me, but â€¦ is there something I can do for you?â€
Cortana: â€œTo be about 20 percent cooler.â€
Alexa: â€œSorry. I didnâ€™t understand the question I heard.â€