Apple recently announced that Siri, the personified electronic assistant that lives in your iPhone, is now capable of responding to self-harm references. Now, instead of directing users to nearby bridges, she actually provides the phone number to suicide prevention hotline. From Apple Insider:
When the iOS digital assistant Siri is presented with a user that indicates he or she is considering suicide, the program will offer to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline [NSPL]. Before this most recent addition, Siri would show the locations of centers but not offer to call them.
I beg to differ on that last sentence — last year, for the life of me, I couldn’t get Siri to pull up any suicide prevention center locations.
But let’s disregard that for now and focus on that first sentence. Apple has “taught” Siri how to respond to suicide-related questions and statements — excellent. I’m honestly thrilled, and I commend Apple for their decision to work this feature into her electronic architecture.
Still, this new version of Siri needs some serious work. While she’s great at handling requests that contain the trigger words/phrases like “suicide” and “kill myself”, she’s a dopey hunk of metal if you profess, in slang, the desire to end your life:
I’m also curious about those outside of the US. Does Siri provide country-specific suicide hotlines? What if someone lives in a country where there is no suicide hotline? Can she be programmed to offer up a web link instead, perhaps to this list of international suicide prevention resources?
When I repeated this experiment on my iPad, which only connects to WiFi, Siri told me that she can’t actually dial the number for me. She recommended trying Facetime instead. (A Google search for “Facetime suicide prevention” yields nothing, really, so I’m not sure if it’s even possible to Facetime a suicide prevention hotline.)
Don’t get me wrong — I think Apple has taken an admirable step here in finally programming Siri to provide a nationally-renowned suicide prevention resource. We’re so technologically dependent these days, and I truly think this Siri update can help save some lives. As I wrote yesterday in an email to Psychology Today blogger Elana Premack Sandler:
…the iPhone and its close cousins are, indeed, no longer just “phones”. We expect a lot from technology, and I think that’s a direct result of the pace of innovation in the tech industry…
…[w]ithin the span of ten years, cell phones — wow, even “cell” is so dated now — have morphed from a luxury to a necessity. Where will we find ourselves in 2023? Will we be living in a Google Glass-y world where there’s virtually no distinction between machine and friend?
Who knows. It’s entirely plausible, and between now and then, I think we’re primed to begin developing almost familial relationships with our devices. After all, how distraught do we feel when we accidentally leave them at home when we go out? Or worse yet, lose them?
We place trust in our devices. We place trust in Siri to get us to Joe’s Pizza or to remind us about our dentist appointment. Can we trust it to deliver suicide prevention resources to those who need them?
Not yet. There are still flaws, and those flaws need to be addressed in the next update. So, if I’ve caught the attention of anyone over at Apple — here’s my personal “wish list” for Siri. She should:
- Provide a web address to a suicide prevention resource (in addition to the phone number).
- Avoid telling users that they can Facetime the NSPL if they can’t. (I think it would be excellent if the NSPL had that sort of capability, though.)
- Recognize slang or idiomatic expressions that suggest the user is suicidal. (Especially the hotel thing, Apple. Especially the hotel thing.)
- Tell users how to help themselves and how to help others. (“Siri, my friend wants to kill herself.” “I don’t understand.”)
After watching the video, if you discover any other suicide-related idioms that Siri isn’t properly addressing, please post them in the comments. I want to create a master list to forward along to the folks at Apple.
What would you add to that list?