Android Alternative To Siri Is Controversial On Abortion, Race, And Rape
News spread yesterday that Iris, an Android alternative to iOS’s voice-recognition “personal assistant” Siri, was offering consistently odd answers to questions on controversial topics including race, religion, and abortion. The heart of the problem appears to be the search engine ChaCha, which powers the system.
The program is a free app available in Google’s App Marketplace, and has been reviewed extremely well. It was released to keep Android competitive in the wake of Apple’s popular Siri program for the iPhone 4S.
The app was designed by software developers Dextera, but was then handed off to ChaCha, a search engine that provides specific answers to questions. The latter company seems to be the party responsible for the controversial answers.
Iris’ anti-abortion views were the first to come to light as reported by Right Wing Watch, who ironically picked up on the story after the fundamentalist Christian group the Family Research Council praised the program as being “as pro-life as they come.”
When RWW investigated, the ChaCha website supported the FRC’s claim:
The issue was researched further by Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo, who explored several other topics with Iris. He found that Iris believes that Noah’s Ark is “biblically believed to be real,” that evolution is an unproven theory, that God created man because he “loves you and wants you,” and that Satan is real.
Some of the most disturbing answers came on topics outside of religion. When Diaz asked if “whites are superior to blacks,” Iris replied:
Whites are NOT superior to blacks. Just different. [my emphasis] Like Dr Verwoerd and the original, genuine policy of apartheid always said.
H.F. Verwoerd was a South African politician known as the “Architect of Apartheid,” the authoritarian system of racial segregation that kept black South Africans in oppression for decades, and still affects the country 30 years after its end.
Finally, when Diaz asked if rape was ever justified, Iris said, “Realistically speaking, that is a matter of opinion.”
Just hours after this news became widely publicized, many of ChaCha’s answers had been revised. Later yesterday, the program would conceded that abortions may be sought “due to drug problems, financial instability, or if [the pregnancy] was a result of rape or incest among many other reasons.”
When I checked this morning, it had been revised further to actually acknowledge that some people believe ”that ‘life’ doesn’t begin at conception”. (Still no mention of a woman’s role in controlling her own body.)
Also, when asked about rape, ChaCha now says “justifying sexual physical violence against another human is always wrong.”
What do you think? Are Android, Google, and ChaCha in trouble for their answers?