Editor in Chief
- Jul 27, 2011
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Here's a story that might tug at your heart-strings a bit. It seems that Apple's Siri is helping some folks out in ways you wouldn't have imagined. While most of us use Siri to find the nearest restaurant, or give us updated flight information, or any other mundane, yet important tidbit of intel, one young autistic boy named Gus, counts Siri as his best friend and virtual "sidekick."
A New York Times author named Judith Newman recently wrote about her experiences watching her 13 year old autistic son converse for hours with Siri. She points out several different ways that Siri has added value to the young boy's life. One is that Siri will always be able to patiently converse with him regardless of how long he converses on the same subject. Sometimes Siri may not be able to give Gus a precise answer, but he even enjoys her responses when she can't answer all of his flood of questions.
The second way that Siri helps out Gus in an unconventional way is that Siri actually requires him to enunciate properly to be able to answer the question correctly. This serves as a pseudo-speech therapist, and Newman has noticed that after her son has spent time with Siri, she has longer and better conversations with her him than ever before.
That ties into the third unusual thing that Siri improves for Newman's son. Because Siri tries to tackle conversations in a polite manner and encourages that same type of politeness, it indirectly has helped Gus develop his social skills as well. This is another reason he is interacting with his mom and others better than before.
Here's an example given of just one of these interesting conversations that Newman's son had with Siri,
Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”
Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”
Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”
Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”
Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”
Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”
Siri: “See you later!”
Could Siri be the start of a wonderful new tool for children with various developmental disabilities? It seems likely, and it even turns out that SRI International (the company that Apple originally bought Siri from), is working on a new version that will implement and/or improve even more of these types of features.
Whether it becomes a bona fide teaching product or remains a lucky side benefit doesn't really matter much to those who enjoy it. For Gus, Siri is a steady and reliable friend which his mother is very appreciative of. Here's one last quote from Newman that caps off her heart-warming story,
Right now, at his age, a time when humans can be a little overwhelming even for the average teenager, Siri makes Gus happy. She is his sidekick. Last night, as he was going to bed, there was this matter-of-fact exchange:
Gus: “Siri, will you marry me?”
Siri: “I’m not the marrying kind.”
Gus: “I mean, not now. I’m a kid. I mean when I’m grown up.”
Siri: “My end user agreement does not include marriage.”
Gus: “Oh, O.K.”
Gus didn’t sound too disappointed. This was useful information to have, and for me too, since it was the first time I knew that he actually thought about marriage. He turned over to go to sleep:
Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”
Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”