Published December 02, 2011
If you’re going to label Siri, Apple’s iPhone 4S voice assistant, as pro-life, then you’ll have to call her an ethnocentric racist too.
Last night I watched Steven Colbert’s clip about Siri’s cultural differences. This inspired me to ask Siri to find me a local kilt store too. She couldn’t do it. I hardly think it was because she has an agenda to prevent me from wearing kilts. (Although she’s would be right if she did.) She simply couldn’t process this information.
The recent story about Siri’s inability to locate an abortion clinic in New York City is one of the most manufactured technology stories in recent memory. It prompted pro-choice activists to disseminate outrage and accuse Apple’s device of having a conservative agenda. In my opinion, this is a stretch.
While there are things that Siri does not want to participate in, such as cursing, I don’t believe that this inability means that the device has a political stance about a woman’s right to choose.
Apple claims that this inability is due to the service being in beta, which is true. Siri can only find information from a limited number of resources including Yelp, Google Maps, and Wolfram Alpha. The only one of these databases that would know anything about local abortion clinics is Google Maps and even that isn’t foolproof. Google Maps will direct you to women’s health clinics if you search for “abortion clinics” and not all women’s health centers offer pregnancy termination.
Siri is similarly unable to help with other specific medical requests.
“I need an enema,” I declared to the device in order to test this theory.
“Ok,” she replied. That’s all she said. “Ok.” Is Siri against colon health!?
Siri is not a search engine. She is a portal to searching through a finite number of resources.
When I ask Siri to “search the Web” for abortion clinics, she was able to do that and found local resources through Google Maps. So the outrage is that she can’t do this natively. But again, she is not a search engine and she can’t search for enema providers either. Because medical clinics don’t always put the name of their services in their title or even metadata. There are no Enema Huts. Or Abortions R Us.
While the notion of a singularity with a social agenda is indeed scary, I don’t think this is the anecdote to jump on. Especially considering Apple has said that the company will fix this in subsequent versions of the program.
There are plenty of players to lash out at if you really want to get into a pro-life/pro-choice debate. Real players. Real people. With real agendas. Siri is neither of those things.