'Glitch' sees Apple's Siri find its voice on abortion


First, there were smartphones. Now we have "opinionated" phones. So say users of the newest mobile device to be released by Apple, which has been suddenly thrust to the centre of America's comically heated abortion debate.

The iPhone 4S, released six weeks ago, boasts a feature called "Siri," which the firm describes as a voice-activated, electronic personal assistant designed to "help you do the things you do every day". Ask Siri to find the nearest burger restaurant, or to remind you to call a dentist, and she'll reply with Orwellian efficiency. But, to the dismay of liberals across the land, requests for help dealing with unwanted pregnancies fall on stony ground.

Megan Carpentier, a feminist blogger, discovered this week that users in Washington DC who ask the device where it might be possible get an abortion are directed not to one of the city's many Planned Parenthood clinics, but instead to anti-abortion "crisis centres" run by the religious right. Users in New York who make the same request are meanwhile told: "I didn't find any abortion clinics." And when Siri is asked "why are you anti-abortion?", she replies chirpily: "I just am!"

This display of what appears to be computerised morality is especially surprising given that the device responds helpfully to requests for assistance finding prostitutes, Viagra, or a reliable drug dealer, not to mention a firing range.

It has duly sparked outrage in left-wing circles, where conspiracy theorists have accused Apple of a deliberate effort to provide assistance to the "life" lobby. After all, they note, Steve Jobs was the adopted illegitimate son of precisely the sort of young mother who might be tempted to seek an abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday launched a petition calling for Apple to fix what it called the "troubling" state of affairs: "If Siri can tell us about Viagra, it should not provide bad or no information about contraceptives or abortion care."

Brandi Swindell, a prominent anti-abortion activist, said she was "thrilled" that the device is "embracing a position that promotes the dignity of women and upholds human rights in the womb."

Apple said the controversy was the result of an unfortunate software glitch, rather than a conspiracy. "As we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better and we will in the coming weeks," it said.

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