Future Tense

Siri Is Not Your New Celebrity Gossipmonger

An updated Siri is keeping up with the Kardashians—but only when they get married, have kids, or die.

Angelina Jolie and her kids, with an iPhone obscuring them partly
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Alexa Suter on Unsplash and Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images.

Headlines have been singing the praises of Apple’s iOS 12 update.
The new operating system is “totally worth downloading”—not only does it come with features that “may improve your life,” it’s also faster and smarter, according to Christina Bonnington’s summary here in Slate. But have you heard? It’s also said to be more of a gossip. According to reports, Siri’s latest iteration is a lot more clue-y about the stars, with celebrity trivia among its new tricks (which include shortcuts, calorie-counting support, and the weirdly targeted “motorsports results, schedules, stats and standings”). Siri, it seems, is keeping up with the Kardashians. Now that’s something that may improve your life.

According to Gadget Hacks, Siri previously relied heavily on Wikipedia for celebrity questions, and the results were not particularly user-friendly for those wanting to dig a little deeper. With iOS 12, however, the new-and-improved Siri gathers information from multiple sources and offers it up in a useful little tableau of facts—a celebrity flashcard, of sorts. Ask whom John Legend is married to, and it’ll tell you it’s Chrissy Teigen (even pronouncing it correctly!) as well as offering an on-screen bubble including her profession, bio, height, date of birth, place of birth, Twitter, and Instagram.

It’s cute and clever, but any celebrity watchers hoping Siri might be their new shame-free TMZ will be bitterly disappointed. Siri is all about giving you facts, not gossip. It’s great at the biographical information but fails at the fun stuff. It’s encyclopedic about birth certificates, knowing where celebs were born—Nicole Kidman in Honolulu, Natalie Portman in Jerusalem—but it’s got no idea as to whether Nicole Kidman was ever a Scientologist, or how to pronounce Natalie Portman’s real name.

So just how culturally enlightened is Siri? I set out to test the limits of Siri’s celebrity-knowledge bank.

It’s clear that Siri has the births down pat, but I ask the birthdate of my birthday buddy, just to make sure—“Colin Firth was born Sept. 10, 1960, and is 58 years old,” it replies, which checks out. Unlike the current president, Siri knows where “celebrity” Barack Obama was born—in the same place as Nicole Kidman, Honolulu—and it tells me right down to the name of the hospital. Yet it can’t tell me when Kylie Jenner’s baby was born—for that, it suggests I try TMZ. That’s what I was trying to avoid, Siri.

One area Siri definitely has covered is death—something that makes up a depressing amount of celebrity news this year and every year. “Siri, when did Aretha Franklin die?” Aug. 16, it tells me, even adding that she was 76 and died in Detroit. “Siri, when did Mac Miller die?” Sept. 7, 26, San Fernando Valley, California. When I ask how Mac Miller died, however, it doesn’t respond aloud, instead offering me an on-screen bubble from Wolfram Alpha, Siri’s preferred computational-knowledge engine, that says: [Input interpretation: Mac Miller, cause of death; Result: drug overdose]. Same goes for Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain—it won’t say the cause aloud, but it will share it. In fact, it’ll use Wolfram Alpha in lieu of reading out the causes of the most memorable celebrity deaths, from Elvis’ to Kurt Cobain’s to Marilyn Monroe’s. (Her “barbiturate overdose,” notably, isn’t listed as either a suicide or a murder.)

What about relationships? I start with an easy one: Brangelina, only one of the most iconic duos of this or any generation, and one that remains highly newsworthy despite being through. “Who was Angelina Jolie’s husband?” I ask. “Angelina Jolie was married to Brad Pitt from 2014 to 2016,” it says, and offers a flashcard about Brad. (Technically the divorce isn’t finalized, but we’ll give it this one, considering that’s when they announced their split.) Ask who her ex-husband is and you’ll get Jonny Lee and Billy Bob too, via Wolfram Alpha, which accurately lists Brad as her current husband. Sometimes you might find yourself genuinely wondering, “Who are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s kids?” but Siri only offers up two names: Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt and Maddox Chivan Jolie-Pitt, each linking to a small flashcard covering their dates and places of birth. Even when I try just Ange, I get the same incomplete results. It’s almost as if, according to Siri, Pax, Zahara, Knox, and Vivienne don’t exist, in spite of the fact that twins Knox and Vivienne are the subjects of the most expensive celebrity photos ever sold. (By contrast, Amazon’s Alexa knows there are six, but it has a biological-child bias: “Angelina Jolie has six children including Knox Jolie-Pitt, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, and Vivienne Jolie-Pitt,” it says.)

Siri may struggle with kids, but it knows all the major Hollywood mothers (Carrie Fisher’s, Kate Hudson’s) and fathers (Allison Williams’, Angelina Jolie’s). It remembers all the marriages, if asked correctly (ask for Britney’s ex-husbands, not husband) and even if the participants would rather forget, but struggles with relationships that didn’t make it down the aisle, no matter how memorable. It can’t tell me the names of any of Taylor Swift’s exes, for instance, though it can tell me the names of both of Julia Roberts’ husbands, current and former—just in case anyone forgot about Lyle Lovett.

It’s spotty in its knowledge of current celebrity beaus: It knows Ariana Grande is with Pete Davidson—who doesn’t?—yet hasn’t heard the buzz about Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom. This update needs an update: Someone needs to fix the database to show that Kourtney Kardashian and Younes Bendjima have broken up, bitterly, and that Miley and Liam are back on—when I ask whom Miley Cyrus is dating, Siri says only that she used to date Liam Hemsworth and Nick Jonas, ignoring Stella Maxwell. (So deep is Siri’s marriage bias that Liam’s flashcard lists sister-in-law Elsa Pataky but not Miley.) According to Apple, Siri draws on a combination of Wikipedia, Apple Music, and Apple TV (sure, sure) for its celebrity facts, but honestly, it’d probably be better off turning to WhosDatedWho, the celebrity-love-life encyclopedia that Slate’s Heather Schwedel calls “the Google of the celebrity-relationships SEO space to the Bings that make up the rest of the pack.” (At this point, Siri is showing itself to be a Bing.)

And what about the more obscure figures? Siri only knows figures who are famous enough to have a Wikipedia page or at least be mentioned in the biographical facts of someone else’s. It can answer questions about YouTube star PewDiePie or former real housewife of Beverly Hills Taylor Armstrong but sometimes struggles with the whos. It can link Apple Martin to her mother or Jackie Sandler to her husband, but since Cherry Seaborn doesn’t make it onto her fiancé’s flashcard, she’s as good as dead to Siri. When our conversation turns to The Bachelor, Siri is stumped. “Who won the last season of The Bachelor?” I ask. “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer won one Oscar for Best Original Screenplay,” it answers. (Meanwhile, true gossip fiend Alexa is able to tell me not only that Becca Kufrin won the last season of The Bachelor, but that Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. later broke up with her to be with runner-up Lauren Burnham.)

Siri never gives up, even when it doesn’t have the answer. When I ask it something challenging, it searches the web and offers up some potential links in lieu of an answer, usually from People, E! Online, PopSugar, Vanity Fair—all good choices. But if you’re hoping your iPhone’s new celebrity feature was going to save you from checking TMZ, you’re sadly mistaken. Siri’s database is only here for the hard facts: the births, deaths, and marriages.

Fame is fleeting, but so is celebrity news. Siri’s just not up to the task.