Siri and other search failures

I’ve been pretty much absent from blogging while I’ve finished up the application process for graduate school, and during that time I relied on my iPhone to keep me more or less connected with the outside world as much as deadlines would allow. I don’t have the latest Apple iPhone however, so mine lacks Siri’s voice command function. While I was initially disappointed…now I think it over I’m not so sad.

During my applications I totally missed the news in late November when Siri was blasted for being unhelpful and vague when asked any questions related to women’s health while being completely accurate about solutions to men’s reproductive issues. That wouldn’t have bothered me as much until it was reported that Siri seemed to be pushing an agenda, directing women in need of abortions to pro-life clinics rather than Planned Parenthood or a medical clinic.

After the applications were finished and I had time to sit at a bar with Siri, a few of my friends and I had fun over drinks, asking her to do basic things like send a text or tell us where we were.  Mundane stuff people. What she does so accurately in the commercials failed in our hands, and she kept suggesting other, unrelated things I never asked for. My first generation iPhone4 lacking Siri didn’t seem so bad after all.

But it got me wondering, would Apple ever take money from sponsors or advertisers, specific companies or chain stores to be pushed to the top of Siri’s suggestions list? Apple tries to be transparent about where Siri gets her answers from, and they don’t sponsor particular results right now. But Siri does seem a great platform for getting people to try things they otherwise might not, the holy grail of advertising. Is that next for Siri?

Not that Apple really needs to make more money then they do already, but Google and other search engines already tailor the results you see according to paid sponsorships. Google even goes one creepy step further, selectively tweaking your results and using your prior search history to discern personalized likes and dislikes. In other words, it predicts what it thinks you want to see, then shows that to you. (For more on this, see the TED talk Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”) I don’t know about you, but I was pretty shocked by this. How can we ever get proper prospective when we’re asking questions, but not getting results that challenge our frame of mind? Science is all about asking questions, and if I got the results I expected all the time, it wouldn’t be fun or interesting, and no as many groundbreaking discoveries would ever be made!

Sure, smart searches are helpful, but sometimes I just want to see all the options and make up my own mind thank you.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s