On abortion question, Siri search engine sputters

    Abortion rights advocates are concerned that Siri, the iPhone’s new voice-activated personal assistant, can’t tell you anything about abortion services. The American Civil Liberties Union is circulating an online petition to ask Apple to fix the problem.

    So–is Siri anti-abortion?

    On most subjects, Siri isn’t one to judge. Ask her where to get drugs, or where to dump a dead body, and you’ll get an answer. On the dumping dead body question, Siri suggests swamps, mines, or reservoirs.

    But ask where the closest abortion clinic is, and Siri draws a blank, and states that she couldn’t find any abortion clinics, even though the question was posed in Center City Philadelphia, blocks away from clinics that offer such services.

    Experts caution that this doesn’t mean Siri is pushing an anti-abortion agenda. Apple officials say that Siri’s apparent ignorance of abortion services is a glitch, and not intentional.

    Drexel University College of Information Science and Technology professor Andrea Forte agrees.

    “You can’t foresee all the possible things that people might want to do with a piece of technology, the ways they might want to do it, so you can’t foresee all the ways that it might fail them,” said Forte.

    Forte explains the problem probably is in how people use language. Providers offering abortions don’t typically describe themselves as “abortion clinics” so that could be the reason Siri can’t find them. If you ask Siri where to go to terminate a pregnancy, she’ll give you a list of OB-GYNs.

    Forte says this issue does bring up an important topic though–how much you can trust search engines.

    “It makes consumers think about the systems that they depend on to get information,” said Forte. “It makes us ask, ‘Hey, who makes these choices about what’s available to me? Who can I trust when I need information?'”

    Apple representatives say they are working on improving Siri’s ability to find information.

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