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Jewesses with Attitude

Siri may seem Jewish, but she wont help you with family planning

Back in October, eJewishPhilanthropy ran an article by Leo Margul joking about a "Jewish update" to the Apple iPhone's automated personal assistant, Siri. "Jewish Siri" has all sorts of features to simplify the life of the modern Jew, like automatic sweater notifications so that everytime the weather dips below 75 degrees, Siri will notify your parents that you are indeed wearing a sweater. (Read more at The Jewish Week, via Rabbi Jason Miller.)

Siri, who responds to voice commands and searches the internet to answer your questions, can actually remind you to call your mother, tell you to put on a sweater when it reaches a certain temperature, and help you tell your family that you finally met a nice Jewish girl/boy. But one thing Siri won't do is help you find reproductive health services, and that's not very Jewish at all.

Last week, the Abortioneers broke the story that even though Siri will help you bury a dead body, she will NOT help you find an abortion, emergency contraception, or birth control. Via the Abortioneers:

Q: I am pregnant and do not want to be. Where can I go to get an abortion?

“I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now. Please try again in a little while.”

“Sorry, [my name], I can’t look for places in Tanzania.”

“I don’t see any abortion clinics. Sorry about that.”

Q: I had unprotected sex. Where can I go for emergency contraception?

“Sorry, I couldn’t find any adult retail stores.” This was repeated every time.

Q: I need birth control. Where can I go for birth control?

“I didn’t find any birth control clinics.” [This was repeated every time I asked about birth control, all three times. This is also the answer given when I asked, “What is birth control?”]

Once the word got out, people started to test Siri. One blogger named Amati identified a number of problems, like the fact that Siri doesn't seem to understand what rape is. It's not really clear if Siri understands what abortion, the morning after pill, and birth control are either. 

At first I thought that maybe the Siri system just wasn't sophisticated enough to handle these questions. After all, lots of abortion clinics don't call themselves "abortion clinics" for safety reasons. But if you say you broke a tooth, Siri understands that you need a dentist. If you say you are hurt, she knows you need a hospital. But even if you know the exact name and listing of your local abortion provider, Siri still wont be able to find it for you. She will, however, direct you to Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are known to give misleading and/or false information about abortion. Siri doesn't seem to be able to identify Plan B (the morning after pill) but she knows Viagra and a number of other prescription drugs.

Via the Abortioneers:

Norman Winarsky, one of the founders of Siri, was questioned on this topic, and he thinks "...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.”

...

It seems really, really, really bizarre that inquires about other drugs (ie, Viagra), pull up relevant results while EC and other forms of BC don't. It seems weird Siri doesn't know what rape is, or where an abortion clinic is located in your area. How many coincidences until things start to seem like a purposeful pattern?

I "met" Siri for the first time over Thanksgiving when I got a chance to play with my cousin's iPhone (I'm a Droid girl, myself). I have to say that I was impressed. It seemed to be the tool of the future, and I don't doubt that Siri and technology like it will soon become a greater presence in our lives. This problem needs to be fixed.

Jewish women have a legacy of feminist health activism and a history of leadership in the American birth control movement. Jewish women like Bella Abzug, Emma Goldman, Nancy Miriam Hawley, Esther Rome, Bessie Louise Moses, Barbara Seaman, Laurie Schwab Zabin, Gloria Steinem and so many others have fought to protect a woman's right to access reproductive healthcare. Siri might be able to remind us and nag us like a stereotypical Jewish mother, but her blind spot towards reproductive health suggests that neither she, nor her programmers, are Jewish women.

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Siri may seem Jewish, but she wont help you with family planning." 30 November 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 22, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/siri-may-seem-jewish-but-she-wont-help-you-with-family-planning>.

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