what time is it in london? daringfireball gets its knickers in a knot over the answer

Just about everybody and their sibling(s) knows who John Gruber is, and his blog, “DaringFireball” ( https://daringfireball.net/ ). In the past, before today, I’d regularly stroll by to read everything he posted. 99% of the time I’d nod my head in agreement with his opinions and observations and then move on to something else. Except for today.

Today, Gruber wrote ‘What Time Is It in London?’ ( https://daringfireball.net/2020/05/what_time_is_it_in_london ) in which he took Apple to task because Siri, when asked the question, supposedly took too long and then answered with the time in London, Canada.

Nilay Patel asked this of Siri on his Apple Watch. After too long of a wait, he got the correct answer — for London Canada. I tried on my iPhone and got the same result. Stupid and slow is heck of a combination.

So one of Gruber’s Twitter buddies tweets his experience asking the question, and Gruber gives it a try and finds the same issue. That’s fine as it goes. Except it gets much worse. In the next paragraph Gruber writes:

You can argue that giving the time in London Ontario isn’t wrong per se, but that’s nonsense. The right answer is the common sense answer. If you had a human assistant and asked them “What’s the time in London?” and they honestly thought the best way to answer that question was to give you the time for the nearest London, which happened to be in Ontario or Kentucky, you’d fire that assistant. You wouldn’t fire them for getting that one answer wrong, you’d fire them because that one wrong answer is emblematic of a serious cognitive deficiency that permeates everything they try to do. You’d never have hired them in the first place, really, because there’s no way a person this lacking in common sense would get through a job interview. You don’t have to be particularly smart or knowledgeable to assume that “London” means “London England”, you just have to not be stupid. (emphasis mine)

The stench of arrogance and entitlement that runs through this paragraph is so strong as to be unbelievable. It’s a good thing I never worked for John Gruber, because if I had and I’d done something, anything, that he deemed to be stupid and “emblematic of a serious cognitive deficiency” I’d have turned around and left far faster than he could have fire me. I would have, in effect, fired him as a boss. Who really wants to work for such a toxic individual?

If I’d run across this type of “problem”, I would have stopped and asked why that kind of result to the question. For software systems, that means letting someone know this is an issue and helping to resolve it. If it’s a person I stop and understand why they delivered that kind of answer. Who knows why? Taking something like this completely out of context and then rage-blogging about it only shows how immature the author (in this case one John Gruber) is. When it especially comes to people, I don’t believe in disposable people. I’m retired now, but I really have tried to be a mentor to those who’ve worked for me, not some bastard boss from hell.

I read that article early this morning while in my doctor’s office (many of us old retirees have Medical Issues that need looking into from time to time). I couldn’t try this in the waiting room, since a doctor’s waiting room, even during COVID-19, should be quiet. But when I got home around noon I tried it, and I got the “correct” answer. Later in the day I tried it again, and then this evening, before I wrote this post, I tried again and grabbed screen shots off my Apple Watch and iPhone. My hardware, in case you’re interested, is a Series 3 Apple Watch and an iPhone 11 Pro Max, both running the latest software that dropped yesterday.

Thanks, John, for helping me to cut my screen time down further. I now have more time to devote to what’s really important, helping others.

Series 3 Apple Watch, watchOS 6.2.5
iPhone 11 Pro Max, iOS 13.5

2 thoughts on “what time is it in london? daringfireball gets its knickers in a knot over the answer

  1. Let’s see, the first problem here is that no one decided to get a data set greater than a handful of attempts. That’s not very scientific sampling. The second problem is the attitude that Siri is “stupid” because it knows there’s a London, Ontario whereas any “sensible” human being probably doesn’t and/or assumes you mean London, England. The third problem is a psychotic over-reaction to this “failure” of artificial intelligence and the extension that it would be cause for eternal damnation if it were a real person. Have I got that about right?
    I’m no fan of AI by any means, but frankly I find it more amusing when it goes wrong like that and only frustrating if it’s failing to do some truly important task – usually one which any “sensible” human being should have been smarter than to assign to it in the first place. Like parsing post content for TOS violations or driving a car.


    • There’s so much wrong with Gruber’s response, on so many levels. It must have been a really bad day for him to go off the way he did.

      Your points and observations, as usual, are all well taken. Using AI for TOS violations is far, far worse than anything poor old Siri might have not gotten right. We’re talking Google/YouTube and Facebook primarily. I read a story that classical musicians are getting blocked on Facebook during live performances because the AI has decided that some faction of the performance of a dead musician is in violation of some other musician. The entire automated TOS violation takedown system sucks dead hamsters through a garden hose.

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