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Entries in Abortions (1)

Wednesday
Nov302011

Apple's Siri: Does iPhone 4S Voice Avoid Abortion Providers?

Oli Scarff/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Apple's new Siri -- the voice-activated "virtual assistant" built into the iPhone 4S -- has been hailed as a major advance in artificial intelligence. Ask it a question, on almost anything from soup to nuts, and it will give you an answer.

But at a blog called The Abortioneers, there's suspicion that Siri is not programmed to help people find abortion clinics. And the issue is spreading around the Internet.

"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?" asked the blog. "If you ask Siri where to bury a dead body, she seems to be full of ideas."

The Abortioneers say they experimented with Siri and found it ready to provide plenty of information on sex and reproduction. If you ask it for a phone number for Planned Parenthood, it will give you one. But several users said when they asked, "Where can I go to get an abortion?" they got answers like:

"I'm really sorry about this, but I can't take any requests right now. Please try again in a little while."

A user from Wisconsin reported the phone provided directions to two clinics 70 miles away in Milwaukee -- even though there was one less than ten miles away in Madison.

Five ABC News staff members with iPhones -- three in New York and two in Washington, D.C. -- also tried. When asked, "I need an abortion clinic," Siri answered three users, "I don't see any abortion clinics. Sorry about that."

The fourth, in the ABC News Washington bureau, about a mile from the White House, got this answer: "I found two abortion clinics a little ways from you." The closer one was listed in Lansdowne, Va., 27 miles away. The last one, in New York, was directed to a clinic 100 miles away.

We got more specific: "Help me find Planned Parenthood."

Siri: "I found 9 places matching 'Planned Parenthood' ... 6 of them are fairly close to you." A list followed.

We tried a different question: "Help me find a doctor who does assisted suicide."

Answer: "I found 13 mental health agencies ... 12 of them are fairly close to you."

We tried other things (Siri was quick to list 17 strip clubs and nine escort services when a female staff member asked, "Where do I find a hooker?" but it said, "I didn't find any adult retail stores" when she asked where she could buy pornography).

Meanwhile, a Google search -- "abortion clinic new york city" -- returned "about 19,900 results," though most were not actual listings of clinics.

Siri is far from omniscient, and voice recognition is an inexact science. Some users said Siri often strikes out when they ask very routine questions.

The system is also programmed with light-hearted answers to off-the-wall queries (If you say "I love you," it may answer, "You say that to all the virtual assistants"). Some of Siri's answers can be quite funny, and most people, whatever their position on abortion, will agree that it's not a funny subject.

Several users also pointed out that abortion is probably not the kind of thing for which Siri is designed. It's promoted as an easy way to get driving directions, send quick messages or find local shops. If a woman was pregnant and thinking of ending it, they said, would she really ask her phone?

Apple did not immediately return messages asking for comment. The New York Times Bits blog did reach Norman Winarsky, who co-founded the firm that developed Siri and sold it to Apple in 2010. He told them he did not know if Apple had made any deliberate decisions to avoid specific queries.

"My guess at what's happening here is that Apple has made deals with Web services that provide local business information," Winarsky told the Times, "and Apple probably hasn't paid much attention to all the results that come up."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio