By Christopher Peri on Sat, 12/03/2011
The news about Siri not being able to find abortion clinics when doing a search broke a few days back, so this post is not to 'break' the news as much as to ask the question; is Siri's inability to find an abortion clinic purposeful programming or just an glitch? I grabbed a 4G and did some testing myself and confirmed what has been reported. So what is the deal here? First a bit of background information; Siri was a research project using AI to process natural language, so its far more sophisticated then a simple database of keywords. When I did some testing, it was clear Siri know what an abortion clinic was, it just cannot find it. Based on that and other points that I go into in my original post, I think Siri is purposely unaware of where abortion clinics are and in fact, sometimes offer CPC (Crisis Pregnancy Centers - considered by most as anti abortion orgs). So its clear the system understands the term abortion and makes that connection to CPC sites. Although it is still possible its a glitch, I feel its quite unlikely that instead someone(s) performed some purposeful programming to keep these clinics from coming up. The question is; where was this done and when?
I have a very strong feeling this was done long before Apple got there hands on this despite Apples stance on these types of issues. As for how it was done, I do not know. Was the location of these sites removed from the database? Was there training involved when the AI system was going through the training period? Did someone sneak in a line of code to insure when this term is submitted to not return clinics but CPC sites?
I'm confident Apple will fix this issue, there has simply been too much attention given it. But will they say 'how this happened' is pretty unlikely, and thats too bad because in the modern age, we depend and expect search to give us the best results the system can achieve and for someone to decided what we should or should not see is censorship and that is a bad trend.