Recently, I read an article in The New York Times online that Siri, the virtual assistant available in Apple’s new iPhone 4S, has glitches in the search for information that Apple insists are not intentional. These glitches were discovered by (who else?) bloggers that were asking Siri questions about reproductive health services … Okay, I’ll drop the pretense — they were asking Siri to locate abortion clinics in Manhattan. Siri informed them, “Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.”
I Google searched “abortion clinics in Manhattan” and in 0.23 seconds I got 104,000 results. This does not mean that there are 104,000 abortion clinics here in Gotham City, but there are easily 104,000 pharmacies and 104,000 banks. Yet if someone gets knocked up in this part of the country and she’s now in the market to safely terminate a pregnancy, this is a good place for her to be.
In the comments section of this article one commenter noted that Siri responds, “I do not know,” when asked, “Which states legalize same-sex marriage?” This made me want to do my own Siri test. Although my cell phone is a Samsung dumb phone, my friend and colleague, Ling, was the first on the block to get an iPhone 4S. Fortunately, when I arrive at work, fashionably <cough> late, Ling was already at her desk. I spill my guts about the glitch. This intrigues my buddy.
Ling: Do you want me to ask her about abortion clinics?
Me: Let’s ask her, “Find me Chinese dissidents.”
Ling (to Siri): Find me Chinese dissidents.
We’re expecting to at least hear about Ai Weiwei but instead, Siri finds us Chinese restaurants.
Ling insists that she must be mispronouncing dissidents. I assure her that she’s not.
Ling: Why the hell does she keep giving me Chinese restaurants?
Me: It must be the glitch.
Frustrated, Ling barks into Siri:
Ling (screaming): Find me abortion clinics in Manhattan!
Siri: Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.
Unbeknownst to Ling and I, Ruth, our company’s General Manager, who seldom visits our office, has slipped in behind us. Ruth’s eyes widen and she cannot suppress her “gotcha!” grin. She thinks she has just heard the Powerball equivalent of company gossip, our very private, very professional graphics manager with the co-owner’s snarky assistant searching for abortion clinics. I can read Ling’s mind.
Ling’s mind: Shit!
Ling flashes me the “get me out of this mess” look. I simply explain to Ruth that we’re not looking for abortion clinics, Siri has a glitch with a political tint, and we’re asking Siri questions to find out if this glitch is for real.
Ling: She doesn’t like it when I ask her about Chinese dissidents, either.
Quickly, Ling asks Siri about the dissidents again. I add:
Me: And Siri also draws a blank about what states have same-sex marriage.
Quickly, Ling pops that question and Siri responds:
Siri: I do not know.
Ruth: That’s interesting, guys.
I doubt that Ruth finds our Siri testing interesting at all, but the “gotcha!” cheer has completely drained from her face.
Last month, Milton and I saw a terrific one-man theater piece at the Public Theater called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. It stars Mike Daisey, the heir apparent to the late Spaulding Gray, a legendary monologist. Unlike cool, slender Spaulding, Mike is a heavy-sweating bear of a man. How they are both wonderfully alike, is that they are both riveting storytellers. For anyone that owns an iPhone, this is an important piece of journalistic storytelling, an exposé about the link between human rights abuse in China and the production of this iconic gadget that has taken the world by storm. I urge all iPhone users that are in Manhattan when this show returns for a five-week run starting January 31 through March 4 to check it out. It won’t make you chuck your iPhone in shame, but iPhone-user Milton did crave copious amounts of alcohol following the show. It will make you think about China’s role in the production of this coveted device – and it made me think about the curious blank Siri drew when Ling asked her about Chinese dissidents; cynical me thinks there must be some link.
Apple worshipper Mike drives home the point that Apple is the cell phone manufacturer with the power to reverse this situation overseas. It’s the common iPhone user that has to pressure them to “think different” again and right a very big wrong that is currently happening in the production of this fantastically popular phone. Mike tells this at times shocking story with a tremendous amount of humor and heart. It’s must-see theater and I hope he’ll eventually take this show on the road and get this message out across the country.