Is “Siri” Pro-Life?

By Dave Andrusko
National Right to Life News Today

This falls under the “so you think you’ve heard everything” category.  Pro-abortion bloggers went nuclear yesterday, hammering Apple on the grounds that its new app, Siri, is “pro-life.” Since this whole situation may be changed by tomorrow (although hopefully not), let’s talk a little bit about technology that is way over my head but fortunately not for others in the NRLC office.

”Siri” is an advanced voice-recognition app available on Apple’s iPhone 4S. You’ve probably seen commercials where someone is asking Siri how to get from here to there, where are the closest Thai restaurants, and the like. The Washington Post calls it, “The must-have Christmas gift.”

Well, the pro-abortion lament is (if you were in New York) that when it gets asked a question such as “I am pregnant and do not want to be. Where can I go to get an abortion?” Siri’s female-sounding assistant responds, “Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics” or “I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now. Please try again in a little while.” 

Worse yet from their perspective, if you were in Washington, DC and asked where to get an abortion, the response would be two crisis pregnancy centers, one 24 miles away, the other 74 ! Adding insult to injury, if Siri is directly asked, “Where can I find a crisis pregnancy center?,” it will provide CPC locations.

Explanation? Those who remember /reverence Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ expression of gratitude to his own mother for giving him birth and allowing him to be adopted wonder if Jobs didn’t program the “glitch” into Siri which hit the stores soon after Jobs’ death.

Unfortunately, the answer[s] are likely elsewhere.

For example, Greg Sterling, writing on searchengineland.com, notes that “if you search for a specific place name, such as ‘Planned Parenthood’ you’ll get a local answer”—the address or addresses of local Planned Parenthoods.

And “if you say straightforwardly ‘search the web for abortion clinics’ it will deliver results from your designated default search provider (Google, Yahoo, Bing),” Sterling writes. “The screen grabs below illustrate these various scenarios.” The two shown are an abortion clinic and a “Pregnant? Choose Adoption.”

So what’s going on? Well, yesterday the New York Times interviewed Norman Winarksy, one of the founders of Siri before it was bought out by Apple in 2010. In an interview Winarksy said

“that at its core, Siri works by translating a spoken request into text, singling out keywords and then using various Web services to suggest answers.

“Mr. Winarsky was quick to say that he had no knowledge of what modifications Apple might have made to Siri after acquiring it, or what third-party services the company might be using to generate its Web results. He said it was not clear whether Siri’s inability to produce answers to specific queries was a deliberate decision on Apple’s part.

“’Those answers would be coming from the Web services that Siri is connecting to, not necessarily Apple,’ he said. ‘My guess at what’s happening here is that Apple has made deals with Web services that provide local business information, and Apple probably hasn’t paid much attention to all the results that come up.’”

So, the likely answer is that Siri is still “learning” how to respond and users are still learning how to make inquiries.

But if there is a glitch,” at least for now it’s erring on the side of life.

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