IPhone 6s’s Hands-Free Siri Is an Omen of the Future

IPhone 6s’s Hands-Free Siri Is an Omen of the Future

The headline feature in Apple’s latest smartphones, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, is something called 3D Touch, which lets you activate shortcuts on the phone by pressing a bit harder on the screen. For now, though, I found a less novel, but far handier feature in the new iPhone — one that has long been the butt of jokes but is now becoming a necessary part of modern computing.

As David Pierce wrote recently in Wired, voice recognition and artificial intelligence are getting so good so quickly that it isn’t really a stretch to imagine that talking to computers will soon become one of the signature ways we interact with them. The new Siri is paving the way to what you might call “ambient computing” — a future in which robotic assistants are always on hand to answer questions, take notes, take orders or otherwise function as auxiliary brains to whom you might offload many of your chores.

Picture the “Star Trek” computer, but instead of powering a starship, it’s turning off the basement lights, finding you a good movie on Netflix and, after listening in on a fight between you and your spouse, reminding you to buy flowers the next day. It will be slightly creepy and completely helpful — and it’s coming faster than you think.

There is one key improvement to Siri in the iPhone 6s that suggests these grand possibilities. Rather than having to reach for your phone, you can now activate Siri by yelling at it from a few feet away. “Hey, Siri!” you bellow, and the robotic assistant springs to life. This is not groundbreaking; hands-free voice control has been around in competing smartphones at least since Motorola introduced it in 2013, and several phone makers have adopted it since. Hands-free Siri is also available on older iPhones when the phone is plugged into its charger, because constantly listening for “Hey, Siri” consumes battery power. (The iPhone 6s, however, reduces the drain on the battery through hardware changes.)

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