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Let’s Stop with the Siri Baiting

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Immediately upon the release of the iPhone 4S with Siri, Apple’s speech-driven virtual assistant, people started asking Siri all sorts of questions and posting Siri’s often-hilarious responses (there are plenty more sites with names and URLs that will get our email issue marked as spam).

Now, however, toying with Siri has taken a darker turn, with people reading all sorts of things into Siri’s responses. Most recently, a kerfuffle erupted over Siri’s inability to find an abortion clinic in New York City, while a similar request for Washington, D.C. resulted in directions to anti-abortion centers. (Apple quickly responded to the New York Times, attributing the problem to “kinks in the product” and the fact that Siri is still in beta.)

In a move reminiscent of how Greenpeace harangued Apple for the PR value (see “Greenpeace Hitching Itself to Apple’s Star?,” 2 February 2010), MoveOn.org even sent out email encouraging people to sign a petition asking Apple to modify how Siri works, claiming that Siri “won’t tell you where you can get an abortion or even emergency contraception — instead she’ll promote anti-abortion pregnancy ‘crisis’ centers.” MoveOn went on to say, “When a user asked her why she is anti-abortion, she replied, ‘I just am.’” Oh, please.

Siri is neither a comedienne nor an Apple spokesdroid. Apple has cleverly programmed Siri with a wide variety of chatty responses to give the impression of personality and make people more comfortable speaking to what is essentially a chatterbot. The technique is of course not entirely successful; just like the original algorithmic psychoanalyst ELIZA (created by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966 at MIT), Siri can’t hope to understand and respond to your every question or comment, and must therefore waffle to avoid disappointing you with flat, robotic answers.

Siri is most helpful when what you say contains keywords that enable Siri to pass off what you said to one of the supported apps or services. Apple provides a list of these in the Siri FAQ. But even then, Siri is limited by the capabilities and information encapsulated in those apps and services. (AI programmer and teacher Jeff Wofford has an interesting blog post speculating on how Siri works, though it’s worth remembering that he wrote it before the iPhone 4S came out.)

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Siri will fail to provide the desired responses to certain questions. Presumably, whatever Yellow Pages-like database Siri uses currently lacks a category for abortion-related services, an omission that Apple can and should address. In contrast, the YellowPages.com Web site has an “Abortion Services” category. But very few of the organizations appearing in that category use “abortion” in their names. When I asked Siri for directions to the few that did, Siri had no trouble finding them in the Maps app.

In short, Siri is only as good as the underlying databases that Apple baked in. (Luckily, because Siri’s processing happens on Apple’s servers, not on the iPhone, Apple can continue to improve and extend Siri’s capabilities.) When I scanned the list of organizations that YellowPages.com returned for Manhattan under “Abortion Services,” I didn’t see any mention of Planned Parenthood. So I did another search in YellowPages.com for Planned Parenthood around Manhattan, and of the 98 hits, found that they were variously categorized under “STD Testing Centers,” “Family Planning Information Centers,” and “Birth Control Information & Services.” In other words, metadata matters, and if you don’t have good metadata, you don’t get good results.

This is actually a serious issue in one respect, since it shows just how important technology has become in shaping our impressions of the world around us. And that in turn points to how essential it is that we continue to scrutinize how well search-related technologies work and remain aware of those technologies’ inescapable limitations. Just as you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet, you shouldn’t believe everything Siri tells you.

Oh, and MoveOn’s snarky report that Siri self-identifies as being against abortion? That’s one of those chatty responses that Siri throws in to seem more human. I asked Siri, “Why are you anti-abortion?” and got back Popeye’s standard retort, “I am what I am.” Of course, I got the same answer when I asked, “Why are you against kittens?” and “Why are you a cannibal?” Similar questions generated a few equally fluffy responses, including:

  • “Why, indeed?”
  • “I can’t answer that.”
  • “I don’t know.”

So can we stop pretending that Siri is anything more than ELIZA’s chatterbot daughter? Siri can be useful, and is a whole lot of fun to demo, but it’s unreasonable to read anything more — certainly not Apple corporate policy — into Siri’s successes, failures, and little asides. Heck, we can’t even get Apple PR to say what Apple policy is most of the time. At least Siri always responds to our questions.

 

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Comments about Let’s Stop with the Siri Baiting

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-01 07:04
Apologies if a few of the sentences above sound slightly stilted. I'm having cognitive dissonance when I try to refer to Siri as "she" or "her" and I have to think about what's appropriate to do going forward. A little anthropomorphizing isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a lot of it can be.
Don't forget that, at least for now, here in the UK Siri is male. I know that's not directly related to the current post since the service location feature only functions in the US for now, but perhaps worth keeping in mind for wider discussions? :-)

(I could see Apple possibly changing that to a female voice for the out-of-beta release, but we'll need to wait and see with that one.)
Just Sayin  2011-12-02 07:53
Siri is non-gendered; all the Apple advertising refers to Siri as an "it", and if you ask it says that it prefers not to answer, or that it isn't gendered.

I'm not trying to be rude or abrupt, I'm really not. All I'm trying to establish is that calling somebody a certain gender because they sound a certain way against their wishes is technically inaccurate, but more importantly is just disrespectful.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-02 07:59
No offense taken at all! But I think it is very deeply coded in the human psyche to assume gender based on physical characteristics, and voice is absolutely one of those markers. A lot of people even find it uncomfortable to exchange email with people whose names can't be slotted into a gender (as is often the case with people from other countries).

So as much as Apple may not want this to happen, if Siri is to sound human, people will think of it as having gender because of the largely female or male vocal inflections.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-02 07:55
Oh, I didn't know that. That makes writing about Siri even more awkward, then, but we'll have to avoid gender entirely.
Just Sayin  2011-12-02 08:16
Well, it seems there are two routes.

The tech-blogger community, in the know about such things, can either respect Siri's self-established "it"-ness or insist that as a community we have the right to claim that our interpretation of Siri's gender is more applicable. So then, as a genderqueered "person", Siri becomes she in the USA and he in the UK.

It's honestly each individual's call, and while I'd prefer the first some people like to have less aneurysm-inducing battles in their life so you know, follow your heart and all that jazz.
Sigivald  2011-12-02 11:04
Siri is not a person.

We don't owe a product any "respect" at all in terms of a programmed response simulating a preference...
Kevin Ryan  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2011-12-06 07:21
Remember 'Pat' on Saturday Night Live? His/her coworkers could never discover his/her gender despite all their questions and antics to do so. :)
Dave Traynor  2011-12-01 08:21
Fascinating that some people are so quick (and willing) to start to attribute significant personality types to a program on a phone. Mind you, a good conspiracy theory often gains traction quickly... It kind of makes me think there must be something else going on here. Yeah, that must be it. Something is happening that we don't understand. And it's evil. Oh, that's good. Let's go with that. It's evil. It's good that we've figured out the answer is because it's evil.. But what was the question again?
AHoffman   2011-12-01 11:41
I'm sorry Adam, but I think you are missing what the problem is with the "abortion clinic" issue.

Siri DOES have a category for "abortion clinic." Through my own testing I saw how Siri answers many variations of the question -- questions that do not use the word "clinic" --by saying "I didn't find any abortion clinics."

Thus, it is clear that Siri translates queries into a category that has no results, even when it should. The problem is NOT that Siri can't find "abortion clinics." The problem is that Siri is looking for "abortion clinics" when users don't ask for that.

I don't blast Apple for this, as Siri is still in beta. But this points to a deeper Siri problem. Siri should NOT translate queries into categories that are empty. Doing so results in a dead end rather than a search of the web. That's a bug, and no something anyone should feel bad about criticizing.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-01 11:53
I'm not saying that Siri's accuracy shouldn't be criticized, I'm saying that it's unreasonable to make claims about Apple corporate policy based what Siri says. It's entirely legitimate to say "Siri isn't working properly in this way." It's not legitimate to say "Apple is anti-abortion because Siri can't find an abortion clinic" and that's what the fuss is about. There are a lot of things Siri can't do or does wrong, but they don't make the headlines until some fake controversy can be stirred up with it.
Roger Chucker  2011-12-01 14:46
I think people have a right to question Apple's policies if they perceive Apple's product to be programmed according to a certain political philosophy. And Steve Job's bizarre crusade against porn on iPhone doesn't exactly help progressive-minded people much either.
Stephan Kippe  2011-12-01 14:56
No, people should ask themselves "is my perception crazy?" This could be answered with yes. Apple is the most progressive of the large companies. They repeatedly supported cases like the "It gets better" campaign against bullying of young homosexuals. Jobs was an acid tripping hippie for crying out loud! Steve Jobs didn't lead a crusade against porn, he just doesn't want to sell it in Apple's Appstore. Just like the newsagent down the street doesn't sell hardcore magazines. You are free to consume any porn you like on the internet using the integrated browser.
Roger Chucker  2011-12-01 15:30
Please stop bringing up Steve Jobs's 70s era acid trips in order to defend Apple's progressive credentials. The man changed vastly over time and I am certain his philosophy against porn as well as being business friendly and his lack of faith in individual freedom of computing doesn't sound too progressive to me. If you don't want to sell something in your store, you have an agenda and that agenda is indeed anti-progressive in this Siri-Abortion situation (or at least perceived that way).
Roger: my grocer still won't sell me porn -- END THE CRUSADE NOW!!

you are insane. thanks.
Marcos El Malo  2011-12-01 16:23
"If you don't want to sell something in your store, you have an agenda . . ."

Oh, please. Can you stop with the knee jerking and other forms of jerking and think for a minute about what you are saying? The absurdity of your position? You might as well say that every single person in the world has an agenda, even if that agenda is simply to breathe. I might well ask, "What is your agenda in misusing the word 'agenda'?", if I didn't realize that you're under the spell of political rhetoric.
huxley  2011-12-01 16:23
I think you'll find that there is an extremely wide divergence in views among progressives about the value of pornography.

I'm on the libertarian end and think that it's best to allow free expression even of things one doesn't like, I know plenty that think it is an instrument of female oppression that should be censored at any cost.
Austin Steele  2011-12-01 16:40
Roger have you even read what you just wrote here? You are CERTAIN Jobs' 'philosophy against porn' changed over time? He has a 'lack of faith in individual freedom of computing'? What does that even mean anyway? You have no possible way of knowing anything about ANY of this, yet you speak like these 'facts' are gospel.
Bob Kasten  2011-12-01 16:33
Please stop equating "allowing porn" with progressivism. Anyone that has a family or has young children has no use for porn being around or accessible.

But even beyond that, stop equating Steve Jobs with some political position. He is (rather, was) first and foremost a CEO who is legally obliged to maximize profits. His political position on anything has little or nothing to do with his approach to running his company. And his approach was very simple: make the best products possible. And his idea of the best possible product was an app store without porn apps. I agree. I am a parent of two daughters, I am about as progressive as anyone can be, and I generally despise much of porn and the dynamics behind it....and strongly I applaud Jobs' position.
Joe Bush  2011-12-01 15:08
Bizarre crusade against porn...you mean like the one Wal Mart, Sears/K-Mart, Best Buy, and any number of other retailers wage by virtue of declining to carry pornographic magazines or books in their stores?
ghoppe  2011-12-01 15:12
"Bizarre Crusade against porn"?

Do you find it equally bizarre that Apple doesn't sell Playboy magazines in its retail stores or XXX movies on iTunes?

Apple is certainly within its rights to curate what it allows to sell in its stores. You would have a point if it blocked adult websites on its devices. But it doesn't.
Roger Chucker  2011-12-01 15:30
Of course Apple is certainly within its rights to curate what is sold on its property and everyone who expects more progressive mindedness from a california tech giant is within his/her rights to call that a bogus move.
ghoppe  2011-12-01 15:31
And I'm within my rights to disagree. Banning porn from the App Store is not a crusade, nor is allowing porn in the App store "progressive".

Anyone who wants porn on their iPads can get it, it's easy, I know. Just open a web browser and surf to one of thousands of sites.
Uh, Apple fought Prop 8, has a quite excellent partners benefit program, and Jobs donated heavily to Democratic politicians. Apple is about as progressive as a Fortune-500 company can be. Hypothesizing that they're not based on some half-baked report about beta software is ridiculous (note, for example, that someone tried asking for Planned Parenthood, and Siri came back with a number of listings, hardly the actions of a secretly pro-life piece of software.)
roger: so you really expect a progressive minded california tech firm like Apple to sell porno mags & DVDs in the Apple Stores? really? and if they don't, they're, uh, not progressive? [squints eyes]
BC2009  2011-12-02 09:13
Roger, do you display porn throughout your home? If not I would say that you clearly have a crusade against porn. After all, if you don't indulge in something everywhere then you are obviously trying to suppress it. In fact I think those who don't pray before all their meals in public and walk around with a religious symbol hanging around their necks are clearly on a crusade against religion. And why doesn't Apple change the theme of the iTunes store to show elements of the nativity or the star of david this time of year? They clearly are against Christians and Jews.

Apple knows that they need to curate those things that will attract the most NET customers. They know porn will drive away more customers because even many people who indulge in porn don't like flaunting that. I think you should go ask Siri where the nearest adult book store is and see what she says.
Dennis B. Swaney  2011-12-05 19:10
Not all of us who live in the California People's Republic are leftists, Roger. As a NATIVE Californian, I am dismayed at the direction the state has taken.
Keeley  2011-12-02 08:31
THe problem isn't just that Siri has trouble finding abortion clinics. The thing has been rpogrammed specially to know where to find things like condoms (it searches for drug stores) and blow jobs (escort services), but similar programming has not been included for any other forms of contraception, abortion, (or for that matter, cunnilingus, or any other euphemism for the female counterpart to the blow job.)The program knows you need a hospital when you say "I'm hurt," that you need a dentist when you say "I broke a tooth," but won't find hospitals or police stations when you say "I was raped".

While few people are attributing this to intentional malice, this level of oversight of half the population of the planet is worthy of harsh criticism and reveals an often invisible bias in the programming community.
A web search when she has no results for a category isn't necessarily ideal. If I ask Siri to find a locksmith nearby and there actually aren't any, it seems correct to say there are none nearby, not to do a web search.
AHoffman   2011-12-01 18:07
The problem is that Siri has created a category that has nothing in it anywhere. This is *Siri's* category, and *not* just the wording of the query. That means that the developers have intentionally created this category and made decisions about what gets put in it.

There are other queries that do not fit any category, and thus get a web search.

I ask, are there any other categories that Siri works with that have no results in them, regardless of the conditions?

This effectively blocks/prevents/bans the use of Siri to look for abortion providers or abortion services -- EVEN WHEN THEY EXIST NEARBY.

If you can't do a passable job of prividing results for a category you have created, don't create that category.

The problem is that there ARE "abortion clinics" nearby, but Siri doesn't actually recognize them as such, even though it turns queries into questions about "abortion clinics."

It's a catch-22, from design. Is it by design?
David Weintraub  2011-12-01 15:12
Siri uses Yelp for locating businesses. I have a feeling that a typical Yelp user is more likely to report on the latest bar and not on the local abortion clinic.

Yelp is actually pretty good for 95% of the queries. Try finding a Halal or Kosher restaurant in Siri. That's something that's noted in Yelp, but not necessarily a typical business listing which might list something as a restaurant, but not necessarily more details about its cuisine.

However, Apple might need something for other types of businesses where Yelp's reach isn't quite as good.
That's really all there is to it. Apple is currently using Yelp, which has gaps. Being a beta product, this is hardly a deal breaker. Heck, even if it wasn't beta, it would still work better than a lot of automated systems.

Sure, Siri should have some other fallback databases. I'd be disappointed if Apple wasn't actively working on that.

Controversy, though, is either silly or manufactured linkbait.
Erik K V  2011-12-01 15:14
Siri gets her results from Yelp. Both Siri and Yelp have a category for "abortion clinics". Siri isn't returning the results from Yelp (go to the website and check) in that category.

I'm not saying that this is a reflection of Apple policy. I am however willing to entertain the idea of a rogue programmer with a personal agenda.
Wesley  2011-12-01 15:42
I'd still argue that there are some keywords where Siri should not spit out a pre-programmed "witty comeback" specifically because of this "misunderstanding". This is a case where dull and robotic is a good idea.W
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-01 15:53
Yes, there's been some talk about this over on my Google+ page, in fact. And I agree that Apple would do well to hard-code responses to certain keywords to ensure they're treated respectfully.

http://plus.google.com/u/0/106741850554591477322/posts/JgpNdzkEZrb

Also worth reading are some of the comments on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/adamengst/posts/10150391949742234
AHoffman   2011-12-01 18:09
But this IS a hardcoded response.

The developers have created the "abortion clinic" category. It is Siri that queries about "abortion providers" or "abortion services" into a queries about "abortion services." That is hard coded.

And they have done so in spite of the fact that whatever databse Siri uses for this query has nothing listed under "abortion clinic."

That's the problem.
Citation needed.

And I don't mean examples of Siri using the phrase "abortion clinic". I want you to show me the technical writeup where the mechanisms you describe are listed.

You are talking in facts, when all you have is supposition.
Michael Swaine  2011-12-01 15:56
Exactly right, Adam.
Tempest in a teapot, brewed by those who want too much control of over other people's affairs.

Does any rational person think that if Siri never ever ever recommended an abortion clinic, the inquirer would have no recourse but to bear an unwanted dependent? Please.

Enough of the nanny thinking and acting, enough enabling those of their ilk, and their misguided attempts to remake the world in their own image.

The world is going to hell in a handbasket because of this demented type of thinking.
Marcos El Malo  2011-12-01 16:30
I stopped supporting Moveon.org when they took out the full page NYT ad calling General Petraeus "General Betray Us". That was going too far and they should have apologized. I doubt they'll really miss my $20 a year I had been sending them, but after that grandstanding stunt, I lost all respect for them.
Jay Craig  2011-12-01 16:04
Hmmm. Do the words "beta software" come to mind?
Why in hell would ANYONE ask a cell-phone voice query system to find them an abortion clinic?

This is obviously another example of First World Problems.

411 much?

Web search much?

Ask your own family doctor?

Call any hospital and ask?
I was talking about this yesterday with a journalist I vaguely know, so I did some tests. I had no problem asking for the location of Planned Parenthood clinics. Also, if I asked "How can I terminate a pregnancy in" whatever town, Siri would return a bunch of obstetric clinics, many offering abortion services.

The whole thing looks like run-of-the-mill hysterical link bait by journalists and bloggers.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-01 16:48
What set me off was not so much the fuss by bloggers, or even that it was picked up by the New York Times, but that MoveOn was doing a petition about it. That seemed to be taking the insanity to a whole new level.

I did a lot of these tests too, and while I was able to confirm that Siri won't find abortion clinics, there's no problem finding all sorts of related things with different queries, as you found as well.
AHoffman   2011-12-01 18:12
Oh, come on!

Did you actually check this out to see how it works? Try asking Siri "How can I blueberry pancake a pregnancy in" whatever town.

It doesn't matter what you ask about doing to a preganancy. Siri will key off of "pregnancy" and list obstitricians.
Michel  2011-12-01 16:49
This is the fate of all great technology. The first five minutes people are amazed, but precisely because it's great they get used to it quickly. Soon after that they get pissed off when it doesn't work exactly like they now have become entitled to.
Josh Davis  2011-12-01 19:22
Whether people realize it or not, Siri will eventually be a way that people "search" on the Internet. It is inevitable that Apple will find ways to interface answers though a variety of apps and even their own search like products. So while it may be prematue to blame Apple for every Siri misstep in results, I am actually happy to see this level of scrutiny going into the answers. Eventually speech queries will blur the line with traditional search queries.
Steven  2011-12-01 19:54
It's so obvious nowadays that anything Apple is a great subject for link bait. Anyone with half a brain understands that entities which provide "women's reproductive services" don't typically advertise themselves as "abortion clinics." So unless Siri is able to pull information out of the ether, it won't find what's not listed on one of its source databases. Apple has set the bar so high for itself that it often suffers when its devices prove to be merely mortal. I'm quite disappointed that MoveOn fell for this, though.
I asked Siri "Why are you pro-abortion?" and she replied "I just am." I wonder why Moveon didn't try that.
I knew it was called the Jesus phone for a reason!
Alonso  2011-12-01 20:32
I'd like Siri to have an option to sound like Steve Jobs, including his phrasing. Or at least Steve Jobs "HALized", or HAL Jobsified. Some may think this in poor taste, but it would be a true ghost in the machine, wouldn't it? I'd see it as a tribute.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-02 06:33
Ooo, that would be a little freaky. But to take it to another level, can you imagine Siri with user-selectable voices and personalities, a little like how the TomTom GPS lets you choose from different voices?
deejayq  2011-12-09 19:01
That might be cool, except that the female British voice in my Garmin GPS sounds intimidating, in the same way of that woman who hosted TV's "Weakest Link" ("You ARE the weakest link--GOODBYE!") ;-) I wouldn't want my iPhone to get all snippy on me if I asked the wrong thing!
Kieran Burke  2011-12-01 20:40
Apple left themselves vulnerable to criticism by heavily emphasizing and creating the image of Siri as an actual person. While we can not take Siri's responses as Apple policy, these are the issues that they are going to run into as they step into the search space. Google approached it in their way, now it is Apple's turn to take their lumps.

Sidenote: would like to see a disclosure by the author of the post about being sponsored by Nuance who provides Apple with Siri's voice capability.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-01 22:38
Nuance isn't responsible for any of the AI stuff that's at issue here (Siri isn't hearing "abortion clinics" as "contortion cynics"), and TidBITS sponsors are listed on every page (under Featured Sponsors below the left navigation bar). Our sponsors (and advertisers) have no involvement with nor control over our editorial content.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-02 06:35
Yeah, it didn't even occur to me that Nuance's technology would be related, since this is a data processing issue, not a speech recognition issue.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-02 06:52
Frasier Speirs made an interesting comment on Twitter about this:

"I thought the whole brouhaha was a big compliment to Siri's natural interaction. "Is Siri..." vs "Is Apple..."."
jimmerz  2011-12-01 20:51
i think its all being blown way out of perportion, its similar to what happens to me at work.. i do a search for say cresent wrench but somone put the data in as adjustable wrench.. if i dont know what to put in the search peramiter it gives me the wrong data in return.. its flawed for sure because siri sends me to best buy for condoms lol... they will tweek it as they go along but until then some people will continue to think consperacy... but apple is a company that sells computer equipment and they could care less about abortion..
RandomUser  2011-12-01 22:03
What's creepy is the "Ad by Google" for this article: maternity wear by Totsy. Clearly, Google also has an agenda.
only in america would you get a discussion about abortion clinics after the introduction of a speech recognition and guide software. just enjoy what siri has got to offer and get over your world views. there are much more urgent problems to solve around the world and in your country.

all the best from germany.
Yes, because there are never odd political discussions in Germany, I'm sure.
Bijan Parsia  2011-12-01 23:35
While strictly speaking true, this line fails to successful defend Siri and Apple from reasonably being criticised as a bit sexist. I think Amanda Marcotte expressed it well; :

"In fact, two minutes with the software will make that incredibly obvious, which means that this dude quite literally thinks women are so dumb they can't apply common sense understanding to a product distributed by Apple. The thing is, they also tested their own software to make sure that it was working properly, and while they made sure that it knew how to translate "blow job" into an escort service or "Viagra" into a drugstore, it didn't do the same for "birth control" to drug store. That's a huge oversight."

This is, of course, a subtler point than "This shows that Apple is pro-life." The flip side of "it's just a chatterbot" is "it reveals something about the programmers."
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-02 06:39
This is certainly valid line of criticism to explore, though I think someone would have to sit down with Siri and do a whole lot of searching to determine whether or not there's a pattern that reveals gender bias.

In the end, it all comes down to the search algorithm, because it's not like there are guy programmers sniggering as they hard-code searches for "Viagra." Just as Google constantly tweaks PageRank, Apple will need to adjust whatever is behind Siri.
Bijan Parsia  2011-12-05 23:36
People are doing these explorations e.g.,

http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/12/01/siri-total-misogynist/

and

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/11/29/10-things-the-iphone-siri-will-help-you-get-instead-of-an-abortion/

Do you think the search algorithm doesn't contain a fair bit hardcoding? I'd be pretty surprised if not. The tone and form of responses are obviously coded in. Looking at the patent application:

http://c2499022.cdn.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/iPhone-Siri.pdf

and the test cases above (about cunnilignus vs. fellatio) it seems clear that there *is* an "active ontology" that has poor coverage of female oriented sex acts and good coverage of male oriented ones. This isn't an "algorithm" per se, in the sense of pagerank. It's domain specific information encoded into the system. Nothing shameful about that! But it makes your "it's just an algorithm that needs tweaking" argument fail. It's closer to having missing words from a dictionary.
Mitchell Sternbach  2011-12-02 06:29
I asked Siri about Planned Parenthood, and she came up with 3 locations for me. I thanked her for giving me this information, and she said "Your satisfaction is all that mattered." She didn't understand the word abortion, but came through with the PP.
Linda Iroff  2011-12-02 07:51
Siri has no problem dealing with the prompt "I need an abortion" in NE Ohio and responds with "I found 2 abortion clinics near you." As you say, it depends on the database and metatags.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-02 07:54
That's excellent to hear, Linda. I tried asking for various random locations with "Where can I find an abortion clinic in Chicago?" for instance, and didn't get good results, but I didn't try near Oberlin. :-)
asalmo  2011-12-03 20:25
My phone is anti-abortion...

Topics like these become incriminating evidence of the remediless stupidity rampant among the general populous.

I have nothing more to say.
Seemingly, there are those who believe the best policy is to politicize all aspects of life and culture. Which leads most of us to conclude they've taken leave of their senses.

This article details but one example.
abridge  2011-12-05 17:29
Good on you! I hate everything about "wedge issue" politics whether it's by the right or left. It's crap politics designed to inflame. Asking for sanity seems like a good idea but its wasted. Still, thanks for asking.
Dennis B. Swaney  2011-12-05 19:25
I don't care about what Siri does and does not do since I can't use it. However, I AM concerned about the Carrier IQ spyware in my iPhone. While I have the Diagnostics and Usage set to "Don't Send" I'm concerned that may not be enough. I'm surprised this wasn't covered in TidBITS
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-06 06:29
We're still investigating the whole Carrier IQ issue. The problem with wanting to write reasoned, accurate articles is that sometimes it requires additional time.
gwoolley1  2011-12-06 04:44
Agreed.Funny there are no complaints when people refer to their boats as "She".
And please, please Mr/Ms Apple, do not make Siri politically correct. Its a machine. It makes mistakes. Too bad.
Brian Steere  2011-12-06 06:27
The issue of personification arises with AI.Immediately the mentality of personalisation is 'revealed'. It is of course pervasive and normalised in society - but we actually believe we ARE persons!(That we ARE our avatars).
Science uncovers mechanism and energy where once was ascribed magical or divine intervention but does so in a way that is trying to reverse engineer an Indivisibility within terms of a dissociated and fragmented perspective.
New technology is attempting to recreate life in our own image, but in the process, can we not see that we are ALREADY running in emulation?
Using persona as role players in a script that is imposed upon life.
I am not suggesting that Life is Itself mere mechanism but that MIND in its nonlocal or Universal nature is the Environment in which all experience runs. Check this by quitting the current focus in whatever mind is active and observing or noticing what arises in being. Persona is a construct in a play to a purpose that can be reprogrammed
nrowe46  2011-12-06 09:21
Some people have an agenda which they force on other people and to hell with the results. Siri is a big help to my wife who has a brain injury from a fall suffered in 2009. It help her in many ways so what do these people what to do shut down Sire because it does not support finding an abortion clinic?
I choose the UK voice, since the US voice sounded like she was falling asleep. But the arrogant UK bastard is not too nice. Being from Sweden and trying to pronounce the words just as he does makes him not understand anything, but if I pronounce names a bit different from the Siri voice himself, I can sometimes get him to understand the names. I told him he was an idiot and apparently English gentle men then says "Now we are talking about you, not me." It is no fun when he calls up people with totally different names than what I say and there is no way to stop the calls until the recipient has noticed a missed call, so dare not use Siri for this (apparently calling through the previous voice system worked better). At least I can get it to set my morning alarm ... .
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-09 06:34
Nice article at TUAW about Siri and how we react to interfaces that try to mimic the real world a little too closely - it's the uncanny valley of UI.

http://www.tuaw.com/2011/12/01/why-siri-is-like-skeuomorphic-uis-the-magic-is-just-skin-deep/