Tech

Here’s what Siri would have been like on MS-DOS in 1987

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Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, Siri, and Bixby, we guess, are getting more and more prevalent, the narrative goes. A lot of people believe the personal assistant's moment is now. But why now? Could it have happened back in say, 1987?

Probably not. But if you want a speculative glimpse at what that would have been like, you can watch this video from the YouTube channel Squirrel Monkey's popular Wonders of the World Wide Web series. As with previous entries about current products like Instagram and Tinder, it plays out like a VHS instructional video explaining to computer newbies how to get Siri working on their home computers.

It's a good reminder of how far we've come; even if, hypothetically, someone had been able to get the intelligence and voice recognition right on a personal assistant in that time, all the other hardware and software limitations would surely have gotten in the way. Like abiogenesis in the primordial soup, sometimes the conditions all have to align for a technology to become usable by the general public.

"Siri in the '80s" from Squirrel Monkey.

So here's the scene: it's 1987. IBM is about to introduce the PS/2 (no, not that PS2, kiddos), Larry Wall is putting the finishing touches on Perl, Predator is playing at the local movie theater, and Contra is the new hotness on the NES. You plug in your expensive voice-recording sound card and your microphone into your 386 PC, and insert the Siri diskette. Your mind is about to be blown by the future of personal assistant technology.

After some loading. Maybe. No, hold on, it'll work. It's just taking a really long time on this bleeding-edge 2400-baud modem. Look, the value of this is clear. It's going to change the world, just like VR. Just give it 31 years… maybe a few more.

Watching the video is recommended, but in case you can't right now, these screenshots show you all you need to know.

  • Make sure you have your S.I.R.I. diskette handy. Squrirel Monkey
  • How many people had all of these things in 1987? Squirrel Monkey
  • You'll need to go through the usual MS-DOS software setup process to get started. Squirrel Monkey
  • An explainer on Siri for the uninitiated. Samuel Axon
  • Ask Siri a question, and she'll get back to you about it eventually. Squirrel Monkey
  • Just don't accidentally format C:. The speech recognition isn't quite there yet. Squirrel Monkey

Say what you will about Siri's usefulness as compared to Alexa or Google Assistant; it's safe to say that this 1980s version has nothing on the Siri experience today.

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