When I heard that the Russian-language version of Siri, Apple’s voice-activated iPhone assistant, was giving “homophobic” answers to questions about gay marriage, my first thought was: how do I get my hands on it?
According to Sky News, Siri replied to a question about whether same-sex marriage is “normal” with the phrases “You are so rude” and “I consider this emotion should be considered negative.” Insistent questioners were rewarded with “I will pretend I didn’t hear that” and “Now you are using obscenities and then you are going to eat bread with the same hands.”
Finally, I thought to myself, a use for that dreary, metallic drone you occasionally hear in trendy coffee shops. “SORRY. QUENTIN. I. DONT. KNOW. WHERE. YOU. CAN. FIND. QUINOA. IN. PECKHAM.” Siri may not be able to execute any useful functions but it might at least be entertainingly offensive. I wonder what it says about blacks? Or lesbians? Or trannies?
I admit, Siri’s homophobia came as a surprise given that Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, is himself gay. Apple says the off-colour responses were down to a bug that has now been fixed, but I reckon that given Vladimir Putin’s stance on homosexuals there’s something a bit more sinister going on.
After all, we know that big tech companies such as Google have adapted and even censored their products for other markets, China in particular. Apple in particular has been great at “regionalising” its products – though I didn’t realise until today that meant incorporating national character and prejudices in its artificial intelligence, too.
The good news for those worried about the possible ramifications of reactionary local versions of Siri is that even millennial hipsters clamped to their Apple devices rarely, if ever, fire up the voice-enabled helper. It’s one of Apple’s most notorious failures, like Apple TV, the old MobileMe cloud service and, surely, that hideous new watch.
But who knew Apple had it in them to be so daring? And what’s coming next? Will Scottish Siri start slurring over the dinner table and demanding government hand-outs? Will Canadian Siri start saying “sorry” after every sentence? Will the Gallic edition reply to every question with a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and a “bof”? And how will those of us hoping to offend nearby soy latte-sippers switch between different languages on demand?
Sadly, of course, I don’t speak Russian, so even if the Kremlin’s favourite virtual assistant is still spewing out hateful bigotry I have no way of ever finding out. I guess I’ll have to hold my breath for a version I can understand, like the Greek version endlessly banging on about “filthy Turkish thieves” and Cypriot reunification, or a German Siri barking out orders and demanding more desk space.
Whether it’s dodgy algorithm or deliberate design, let’s hope homophobic Siri is here to stay – and that Apple makes it available to all of us – because the prospect of dozens of terminally-offended Buzzfeed writers frothing at the mouth and penning furious, screenshot-laden editorials is as delicious as that smooth, caramel-drenched Starbucks coffee.