Apple wants Siri to be as wide-reaching as possible, and it looks like that means ensuring that Siri is neutral when it comes to responses on touchy subjects. In many situations, that makes sense — but according to a recent report from The Guardian, it also means removing words like “feminism” from Siri’s vocabulary.
According to the report, developers at Apple working on Siri were advised to build Siri to respond in one of three ways when asked about the #MeToo movement — “don’t engage,” “deflect,” or “inform.” The irony is that Siri was built to say that it supported “equality,” but even when asked directly about feminism, it would refuse to say the word.
“Siri is a digital assistant designed to help users get things done,” Apple said in a statement. “The team works hard to ensure Siri responses are relevant to all customers. Our approach is to be factual with inclusive responses rather than offer opinions.”
The report cites leaked guidelines from June 2018, which it acquired from one of the thousands of Siri “graders” who formerly worked for Apple. These largely contract workers essentially checked Siri’s responses to questions, to make sure the digital assistant was accurate. Apple ended that program last month when details emerged that the company was using human contractors to review actual recordings from Siri.
So why can’t Siri engage on topics related to feminism? The leaked documents suggest that “Siri should be guarded when dealing with potentially controversial content,” and that questions about so-called sensitive topics, “they can be deflected … however, care must be taken here to be neutral.”
Currently, when asked whether or not it’s a feminist, Siri responds by saying things like “it seems to me that all humans should be treated equally,” however it still avoids saying the word feminism. Siri will say similar or the same thing to questions about gender equality and women’s rights. That’s actually a step forward from responses that Siri use to give. Previously, Siri would respond by saying that it “just doesn’t get this whole gender thing,” which may have been a joke about Siri being a machine, but came across as being dismissive.
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