Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Does iPhone have a hard time talking about reproductive health?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Elsewhere on the interwebs, some pro-choice activists are raising concerns about Siri, the voice-activated iPhone function that caters to its user's every whim.

Well, maybe not every whim. Siri, it seems, can tell you where to find Italian restaurants in North Beach, remind you about appointments or chores you need to do. But when it comes to abortion and reproductive health, advocates worry, the cat seems to have its tongue:

I have heard from others in the women's reproductive health community that Siri is noticeably silent on these issues.

Siri works by reading your speech, translating that into whatever action is necessary -- pulling up a contact's information, adding an appointment to your calendar, or, if information is what the asker is after, pulling from the web. ... [So] if abortion information is plentifully available on the interwebs, and Siri is pulling those types of requests from the web, why does Siri not have an answer about birth control or abortion?

(H/t to DailyKos for link.)

We were curious about how Siri would handle reproductive-health related questions here in Pittsburgh. But inasmuch as we work in print journalism, we're not what you'd call "early adopters." So we consulted Andrea Shockling, who owns a newfangled Siri-compatible phone, and is an acquaintance of our music editor. 

Shockling -- who was within city limits when she sought out this information -- found that when asked for women's health options around town, Siri indeed appeared a bit tongue-tied:

click to enlarge siriabortion.jpg

click to enlarge siriwomen2.jpg

Requests for information on birth-control also prompted a shrug:

click to enlarge siricontrol.jpg

Still, when Shockling asked for Planned Parenthood by name, she got locations for clinics in the area. And even a more open-ended request produced valid results -- a listing of nearby OB-GYN practices:

click to enlarge siriobgyn.jpg

Shockling suspects the problem may be that the interface system isn't quite as sophisticated as it may seem.

"The thing about Siri is you can't be too conversational," Shockling says. "She's a computer not a confidante. But ask for Planned Parenthood, and she'll tell you where they are located.

"I don't think there's any conspiracy," Shockling adds. 

In fact, as with the sometimes comic results obtained by a mobile device auto-correct function, Siri's search results can provide some laughs. Assuming your medical condition isn't too dire, of course.

If you ask for "family planning," for example, you get family restaurants:

click to enlarge sirifamily.jpg

Though honestly, a few visits to a restaurant with your kids in tow -- or someone else's kids at the next table -- might actually be the best advertisement for birth control I know of. 

click to enlarge siriclinic.png


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