Hey Siri. More than 60 million Americans talk to inanimate voices on their cellphones

Don’t be fooled, she’s not real
Don’t be fooled, she’s not real
Image: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
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Four years ago, Spike Jonze’s movie Her imagined actor Joaquin Phoenix‘s character falling in love with Samantha, his virtual personal assistant whose voice was played by actress Scarlett Johansson. Phoenix develops a deep relationship with Samantha, which only ends when he discovers she’s having similar connections with thousands of other people. The movie racked up five Academy Award nominations including best picture and won for best original screenplay.

Even though Siri had launched on the iPhone two years earlier, the idea seemed far-fetched at the time, but no more. According to a recent research report from eMarketer, 60.5 million Americans will talk at least once a month to their virtual personal assistants named Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and other as-yet unknowns this year. “That equates to 27.5% of smartphone users, or nearly one-fifth of the population,” eMarketer said.

Almost 30 million users talking to these disembodied voices will be people between 25 and 34 years old—millennials who find virtual assistants particularly efficient. More than a third of millennials will use a virtual personal assistant this year, the report said. A survey earlier this year of UK smartphone users by advertising agencies JWT and Mindshare found 26% of respondents have had a sexual fantasy about their voice assistant and 37% wish it were an actual person.

Baby boomers apparently prefer real people, or using text and email, to get things done. Only 9.7 million of that group—born between 1945 and 1964—will use a virtual personal assistant this year.