Scottish Accents Foil iPhone 4S’ Siri

We’ve all heard about the cool and fun things that the iPhone 4S’ virtual personal assistant Siri can do.

Just like a live assistant, Siri can schedule appointments, point out potential scheduling conflicts, look up nearby restaurants, and even joke around with you. The system that combines artificial intelligence and voice-recognition can even speak and understand different languages.

And just like us humans, Siri can be befuddled by “strong” accents. The Times of London ran a story Wednesday (note, paywall) reporting that many people in Scotland are having a hard time getting Siri to understand their commands and comments.

The Times reports that when asked if it can fetch one of its owners a “fish supper,” Siri answered: “I don’t know what you mean, ‘can I pick up your professional drum people.'”

Other comments, such as “Cheers” said in a Scottish accent, was interpreted to mean “chairs.”

The Times quotes the Scottish novelist James Robertson accusing Apple of “linguistic imperialism.”

“If the phone doesn’t recognise a simple word like ‘cheers’ it won’t recognise much,” Robertson complained. “People are obliged to moderate their voices to make themselves understood by machines. It has the effect of modulating everyone’s voice toward the most powerful, dominant people in the world.”

Apple says that Siri is designed to work in all of the the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

The Times, however, scoured the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow and reported that many people said that they had had a hard time getting Siri to understand them.

But perhaps the Scots should give Siri a little time.

It could be that she just needs some more time to become familiar with their accents over time — just like a human.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Idealab
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: