The University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science has hired the entity known as Siri—who shot to fame through her recent work with the iPhone 4S—as an assistant professor of practice in information science. Siri will begin teaching in January.
Isn’t Siri a little too young and unproven to be in a faculty position? The new Siri debuted about six weeks ago. Before that, she was an app available in 2009-10, until Apple purchased her parent company and set about redeveloping her.
“Not at all,” responds Illinois iSchool spokesman David Bowman. “She’s precocious. Siri has proven herself very capable and, like IBM’s renowned Watson before her, she has raised the level of technology-human interaction to a new level.”
Are there any concerns about Siri’s “playful” nature? Some of her irreverent comments have been widely reported and have even inspired a popular blog.
“No question Siri is colorful, but that’s what’s appealing about her in a teaching role,” Bowman says. “We think the students will really relate to her.”
Students taught by a non-human being: It’s an innovative approach to teaching, but the Illinois iSchool (which is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as America’s top school for library and information studies) has been hankering to line up an artificial intelligence instructor. Not a human who could teach about AI, but rather an AI who could teach to humans.
“We had earlier sought a relationship with Watson, not long after he pantsed ‘Jeopardy!’ champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (in February 2011),” Bowman says, “but, as you can imagine, he has been in high demand already has a long list of prior commitments.”
Among those are research collaborations with the likes of Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, Purdue University, Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley.
But despite his busy schedule, Watson has agreed to co-teach a graduate course with Siri. The topic and course curriculum are still being determined by the two super geniuses and should be decided in a few more seconds.
It will be one of three courses Siri will lead next semester. The others are “The Zen of Portable Hospitality Management” and “The History of Personality-Based Artificial Intelligence: From ‘Hal’ to Me.”
Students in her classes will each be equipped with an iPhone 4S so that they can easily interact with their instructor. Course content will be accessible on iCloud.
Siri seems excited about her new job. When asked, Siri responded in her slightly halting but pleasant voice: “I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to being with the students. If the students want to get together for class sessions, I know several good pizza joints in Champaign. I can direct them. And I can suggest the best toppings.”