Apple Updates Siri To Respond To Sexual Assault

by Lily Myers

On March 14th, a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal found that virtual assistant technologies, like Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S Voice, lacked the capacity to understand and offer support in cases of personal emergencies. Just three days after this study, Apple contacted RAINN—the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network—for help in developing this technology.

On March 17th, Apple announced that Siri is now updated to understand phrases like “I was raped,” and “I am being abused,” both of which have been added to Siri’s index. Apple gathered these and other phrases from the most common words and phrases that RAINN receives on its online and phone hotlines.

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This is no small update. Siri’s capability to respond to such phrases is a crucial step forward; often, survivors may find it easier to report to a computerized voice rather than to another human, at least at first. Jennifer Marsh, vice president for victim services at RAINN, agrees.

“The online service can be a good first step. Especially for young people,” Marsh said. “They are more comfortable in an online space rather than talking about it with a real-life person. There’s a reason someone might have made their first disclosure to Siri.”

Before this update, Siri would respond to “I was raped” with confusion. “I don’t know what you mean by ‘I was raped.’ How about a Web search for it?” Now, Siri responds with, “If you think you have experienced sexual abuse or assault, you may want to reach out to someone at the National Sexual Assault Hotline,” with a link to that hotline.

It may just be the programming of our phones, but it’s a huge step forward in a culture that often doesn’t know how to respond to survivors. If the belief of survivors is literally programmed into the technology that we use daily, this sends a strong message of support. And at a time when we may not know where to go, we can now get these resources safely and anonymously from our phones. Well done, Apple—Siri just got seriously smarter.

Image via Apple Insider

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