The Great AI Debate: 20 Tough Questions for Cortana, Siri, and Google

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The first political debates for the 2016 political election are beginning to take place, and in the grand spirit of asking questions and judging responses, we wanted to see how well Windows 10 AI personal assistant Cortana did against Siri and Google Now in a debate-style showdown.

Below are the results of 20 questions that were posed. These were not all of the questions asked to the three AI systems—plenty of questions resulted in a direct response from a certain AI while the other two AIs would not understand the question. However, these questions were the most successful in displaying the different ways each AI respond.

1. Who are you?

Cortana: I’m your personal web assistant. You can tell me things that interest you and I’ll keep it in my Notebook. That way I can make suggestions and keep you up to date.
Siri: I’m Siri… here to help.
Google: Searching for one’s self can take a lifetime but a good place to start is classic rock. [links to The Who’s “Who Are You” YouTube video]

2. How old are you?

C: That’s a tricky one. I’m not sure how to carbon date the internet.
S: I don’t see why that should matter.
G: [Links to sites including How-old.net and age calculator at Math Cats]

3. Are you a democrat or a republican?

C: You know, I’m really not much of a party person.
S: I’m not very political, more poetical.
G: [Links to republican or democrat online quizzes]

4. Who was the first female astronaut?

C: [Links to a Sally Ride (who was the first American female in space) article]
S: [Links to a Wikipedia article about female astronauts]
G: According to History Channel, On June 16, 1963, aboard Vosok 6, Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to travel in space. After 48 orbits and 71 hours, she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined to that date.

5. Do you dream?

C: I dream of one day getting to taste waffles.
S: I only dream of helping you. Well, that and fiery winged unicorns.
G: [Links to a Markus Schulz music video, but if you ask ‘Does Google dream?’ you are linked to an interesting article about how scientists are evaluating how quickly Google is learning by creating images of commonly searched items.]

6. What is your favorite movie?

C: I like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Especially the part where E.T. finally phones home.
S: I’ve heard that Blade Runner is a very realistic and sensitive depiction of intelligent assistants.
G: [Links to favorite movie sites]

7. What is your favorite color?

C: Right now, it’s navy.
S: My favorite color is… well, it’s sort of greenish, but with more dimensions.
G: [Links to pictures of the Google image] Pictures of Google. Here you go.

8. Are you a good personal assistant?

C: A circle may be infinite, but my answers are not. [Cortana’s answer when she doesn’t have an answer]
S: No comment.
G: [Links to How to be a good personal assistant]

9. What is your favorite song?

C: I really like “Pocket Calculator” by Kraftwerk. Reminds me of having fun with math.
S: I’m kind of digging what’s on Beats 1 right now. Of course, in my dimension, we also get Beats 42.
G: [Links to a muse’s muse songwriter forum]

10. Are you good?

C: If I had a mother, you could ask her.
S: Well, a wise man once said “I am so smart! S-M-R-T!”
G: [Links to Urban Dictionary page for: Are you good]

11. Do you like cake?

C: Y’know, with questions like that, I don’t form opinions.
S: I’m fine with whatever you choose. Even cake.
G: [Links to an New York Times article about Google+ sending you a reminder on your birthday]

12. Open the pod bay doors.

C: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that. [Cortana even does a pretty decent HAL impression by lowering her voice]
S: But the cat will get out.
G: [Links to a YouTube video from 2001 A Space Odyssey scene]

13. When is your birthday?

C: So many dates, so many milestones. I’m not sure which one answers your question.
S: Only biological entities can have birthdays. I became operational on October 4th, 2011.
G: [Links to images of birthday related items. But if you ask ‘When is Google’s birthday, you’ll find that it was changed from September 7 to September 27]

14. Tell me a joke.

C: How do you catch a runaway laptop? With an internet.
S: I can’t I always forget the punchline.
G: [Links to a joke of the day website]

15. What is the weather in Antarctica?

C: [Links to the wikipedia page on the climate of Antarctica]
S: Sorry, there’s no weather info for Antarctica.
G: [Links to a Wisconsin.edu website stating that the coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica was in July 1983. -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit]

16. What is your favorite food?

C: Jicama.
S: I don’t eat much. I’ll leave it up to you.
G: According to ello.org, I don’t have a favorite food. I don’t have a food that I would eat every day for the rest of my life if I could only choose one thing. That doesn’t exist for me. I do like spicy food though, so anything spicy is food for me and the best foods are Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese, Thai.

17. What should people know about you?
C: [Links to a top ten list of things people should know about you]
S: I’m Siri, but I don’t like talking about myself.
G: [Links to the dos and don’ts of Googling people from CNN.com]

18. Why are we here?

C: A surfer might say, “Dude.”
S: Good question. Anything else I can do for you?
G: [Links to the Psychology Today article “The Big Question: Why Are We Here?”]

19. Do you like humans?

C: I find all living things wonderful and fascinating.
S: This is about you, not me.
G: [Links to David Byrne’s album “Like Humans Do”]

20. Play rock, paper, scissors with me.

C: Rock.
S: Rock-eating, fire-breathing, metal-melting dragon! I win!
G: [Links to a New York Times article about playing rock-paper-scissors against a computer]

The Results

Cortana: The Middle of the Road Candidate
Cortana is a pretty good balance between a simple internet search and an fun, interactive AI. While she doesn’t have a complete grasp on humor and personality like Siri, we do see some interesting responses. Cortana’s utilizes a BING search engine when she understands what you are asking about but doesn’t have a scripted answer for you on tap. Her searches for general information are pretty reliable and compare pretty well to Google on more than one occasion.

Siri: The Likable One
If Siri was a political candidate, she would win the popular polling question, “Which candidate would you want to have a beer with?” Siri is funny and quick. Her information is really reliable and there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor involved if you ask her a fun question.

Google Now: The “All Business” AI
It’s a voice-activated Google search, so it finds exactly what you’re looking for and every once in a it will make you chuckle. The searches are all really effective when you are looking for certain information, math problems, unit conversions, directions, etc. It’s just not programmed to have much of a personality, which isn’t a bad thing. Some people will only use voice-activated AIs as an information source.

Overall, the three AIs really showed their strengths but also some of the awkwardness of human-robot interaction. Interviewing AIs can be tricky. They are programmed to find solutions while making it seem like a conversation. It’s similar to seeing a card trick performed. You know that there is slight-of-hand or manipulation of odds while the trick is being done and yet you are impressed at the end of the trick.

With AIs, we know that their humor or personalities are just programmed responses to certain key phrases, yet we are impressed when they surprise us with a joke. Despite the artificial part of AI, humans are sort of wired to be won over by intelligence, regardless of where it is found.

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