Why can't Apple's Siri find abortion clinics?

Siri, the iPhone’s new digital assistant, might be able to help you hide a body in a nearby swamp, or find a prostitute, or just tell you what to wear to work in St. Paul on an early December morning. But recently, when it was asked to help find an abortion clinic in Manhattan, it came up blank.

Apple got some heat about this online this yesterday. Today, the company said Siri was not making a political statement, merely struggling with a glitch in the software. Anyone who has played around with Siri will understand (even if Siri might not).

Turns out when you talk to Siri, syntax matters. A lot. When I asked it for a Planned Parenthood this morning, Siri delivered. It found three locations within a few miles of downtown St. Paul. When I asked for abortion clinics, it struck out.

Truth be told, Siri is not all that smart. Despite more than a month of trying, Siri still can’t pronounce my Mom’s somewhat unusual Texan name, Suella. It can not comprehend or remember that my wife Emily is beautiful. Apparently I have to chose: my wife can be named beautiful or my wife can be named Emily.

Siri, beautiful is an adjective!

“Stephen, I don’t know what you mean by beautiful is an adjective.”

She just doesn’t get it.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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