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UPDATE: Siri's inability to point some users in the direction of an abortion clinic or birth control wasn't a conscious decision by programmers, Apple said late Wednesday.
"Our customers want to use Siri to find out all types of information, and while it can find a lot, it doesn’t always find what you want," company spokeswoman Natalie Kerris told the New York Times in a phone interview Wednesday evening. "These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone. It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better, and we will in the coming weeks."
Apple's comments, which were also made to a number of other media outlets, stopped short of an apology and didn't necessarily promise that a fix was immediately forthcoming or a high-priority for the tech company. That has some around the Web -- which first became abuzz about Siri's abortion-clinic blind spot earlier this week -- urging Apple to move faster. The ACLU and a group called The Abortioneers are both circulating online petitions calling on Apple to fix the glitch.
Wednesday, Nov. 30: Why’d the chicken cross the road? Siri knows. Trying to score some pot? Siri’s got you. Want a hooker? Ask Siri. Want to kill that hooker, except now you’re super duper high and paranoid and don’t know what to do with the body? Don’t worry, Siri has a few suggestions. Need to find an abortion clinic?
"Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics."
Siri, the Apple iPhone 4S's incredibly helpful virtual assistant, is conspicuously silent on the issue, even when she’s asked in areas close to abortion clinics. (She has similar difficulties when asked about finding women's health services and contraception.)
It’s probably a rare request, but as Raw Story notes, "if you happen to be in Washington, D.C., she won’t direct you to the Planned Parenthood on 16th St, NW. Instead, she’ll suggest you pay a visit to the 1st Choice Women’s Health Center, an anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) in Landsdowne, Virginia, or Human Life Services, a CPC in York, Pennsylvania." A simple Google search, meanwhile, turns up no less than 7 abortion clinics in the metro area.
The discovery of Siri's apparent hesitancy to point a user in the direction of the nearest abortion clinic has many around the Web wondering if Siri is pro-life and whether Apple is attempting to impose its morals upon the rest of us.
If so, this wouldn’t be the first time. As CIO reminds its readers, Apple banned apps from it App Store that showed too much skin. (Somehow, and maybe understandably, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar app passed the test.)
Apple representatives were unavailable for comment, but Norman Winarsky, one of the founders of Siri, explained in an interview with the New York Times that Siri operates by converting the spoken request to text, and then using various web services to suggest answers:
Mr. Winarsky was quick to say that he had no knowledge of what modifications Apple might have made to Siri after acquiring it, or what third-party services the company might be using to generate its Web results. He said it was not clear whether Siri’s inability to produce answers to specific queries was a deliberate decision on Apple’s part.
“Those answers would be coming from the Web services that Siri is connecting to, not necessarily Apple,” he said. “My guess at what’s happening here is that Apple has made deals with Web services that provide local business information, and Apple probably hasn’t paid much attention to all the results that come up.”
Whether or not Siri’s pro-life, she’s nothing if not politically correct. When asked point blank if she’s pro-life, Siri answers firmly: "No comment."