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Siri and Cortana communicate pretty much like humans. Unlike Google Now, which mainly gives us search results when asked some questions (not setting alarms or reminders), Siri and Cortana provide us with an answer, in the same way that a person would do.

So, are they actual AI programs or not?

(By "question" I don't mean any academic-related question or asking routes/ temperature, but rather opinion based question).

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Siri and Cortana are AI to some extent. The usual label is "weak AI" (also called "narrow" or "soft" AI). It turns out the Wikipedia article on Weak AI explicitly refers to Siri:

Siri is a good example of narrow intelligence. Siri operates within a limited pre-defined range, there is no genuine intelligence, no self-awareness, no life despite being a sophisticated example of weak AI. In Forbes (2011), Ted Greenwald wrote: "The iPhone/Siri marriage represents the arrival of hybrid AI, combining several narrow AI techniques plus access to massive data in the cloud." AI researcher Ben Goertzel, on his blog in 2010, stated Siri was "VERY narrow and brittle" evidenced by annoying results if you ask questions outside the limits of the application.

Important to note that "mixing" weak AIs does not make a "stronger" AI, by some arguments (see Searle's Chinese Room argument), but there is no consensus on this topic yet.

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  • $\begingroup$ Rather than quoting Wikipedia, which can be written by anyone (so it's sometimes not reliable, although, in this case, that quote is not far off), even though this is an old question/answer, I suggest that you edit this answer to quote "Ted Greenwald" and "Ben Goertzel" directly. $\endgroup$
    – nbro
    Jan 20 at 11:10
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I would classify both as having / using elements of AI, yes. But I wouldn't say either represents a truly "intelligent" (in the AGI sense) program.

But here's the rub... as you'll see in other questions asking about definitions of AI, there's a sort of memetic thing where anything that AI begins to do successfully, immediately stops being considered "AI". So AI is always an unreachable state, because it's always "something humans can do that computers can't" and once the computer can do it, it isn't AI anymore. So take that into consideration.

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They are virtual artificial agents which exhibit intelligent behavior (AI).

Tim Urban on Wait But Why website wrote the following:

The software and data behind Siri is AI, the woman’s voice we hear is a personification of that AI, and there’s no robot involved at all.

Source: The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

Related: What is the difference between AI and robots?

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Short Answer, No.

Explained, Siri and Cortana are just inference engines. Though how applaudable their ability to synthesize text from speech and parse lexical maps from the text using Machine Learning Techniques is, the artifact is still just a program, trained with substantial myriad of Q/A tuples, that generates an output given an input. Statistically mapping the probability distribution of words of a question and accordingly generating an answer is just NOT an AI, however, to the most, it can be classified as Narrow Intelligence.

www.cleverbot.com is an example of such a system. The ones you mentioned are just more sophisticated and highly architectured versions of this kind; for example, connection to WolframAlpha (Siri), Computer Kernel (Cortana). In fact, there is a lot of innate use of control statements (If-Else).

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