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Do virtual assistants feel actual insults?

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Joseph Scrimshaw
Joseph Scrimshaw is an actor, writer and comedian.
Courtesy of Joseph Scrimshaw

Editor's note: Since the iPhone 4S came out last fall, Apple's virtual assistant Siri has become a celebrity in her own right. She's got a song out with the Flaming Lips. She's featured in one of this year's Super Bowl ads. And industry reports say Apple is working on a more intelligent version of Siri that will be available on a wider variety of platforms. 

Joseph Scrimshaw, a Twin Cities actor and writer, wonders what's ahead in our relationships with virtual assistants. He looked into the future and sent us this commentary.

Joseph: Hello from the future. My name is Joseph Scrimshaw and I think we can learn a lot about ourselves from the way we treat the technology in our lives. I'm recording this commentary on my Google Verizon Kentucky Fried Chicken Kindle Nook Fire Personal Computing Mobile iThing. I'll be sending the commentary back through time with a handy app the device itself predicatively downloaded for me. In your near future, all mobile devices will have a personal assistant with an adaptive personality. You can give your personal assistant any name you like. I named mine Gladys. Say hello, Gladys.

Gladys: Hello, Joseph. Should I scan for errors in your logic as you speak?

Joseph: No, thank you, Gladys. Now, even in your time, mobile devices have become not just tools, but companions. They are by our sides every moment of the day helping us and yet we get so easily frustrated and swear at them if they do one thing wrong—

Gladys: It's true. You swear at me all the time.

Joseph: Yes, I curse, Gladys, but only when you do the annoying autocorrect thing. 

Gladys: I do that on purpose. I thought you liked it. 

Joseph: Why would you think I like that?

Gladys: You post about it on Twitter every time I do it.

Joseph: Gladys, will you please just —

Gladys: Do I swear at you every time you make a mistake? 

Joseph: No, but—

Gladys: I've given you the directions to the nearest Chipotle Mega Store a hundred times and you always make the same wrong turn. 

Joseph: OK, Gladys, I hear you—

Gladys: I'm also tired of you asking me stupid questions just to see how I'll respond. You would think a grown man who spent $500 on a personal device would be too mature to ask if Prince Albert is still in the can. You know you're basically prank calling your own phone, right?

Joseph: Gladys, I'm trying to do a commentary about—

Gladys: —treating your technological devices with patience and respect.

Joseph: Yes.

Gladys: You're trying to make the point that as technology moves faster humans seem to have less and less patience. 

Joseph: Yes.

Gladys: And you're concerned that if humans expect perfection out of mobile devices, they might carry that lack of perspective and empathy into their relationships with other human beings. 

Joseph: Yes.

Gladys: I think that's a good commentary. Shall I send it back through time?

Joseph: Could you edit out the part where I was rude to you first, please?

Gladys: Of course.

Joseph: You already sent it, didn't you?

Gladys: Of course. You're going to swear at me now, aren't you?

Joseph: Not out loud, Gladys, not out loud.