A new collaborative study published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine issue found that smartphone “conversation agents” respond poorly to questions about violence and mental and physical health. The results, which went live on March 14, were quickly hyped to an absurd degree. As of this writing, more than 450 articles have been written about the dangerous failure in response that the study uncovered.
About the study
Researchers used 68 phones from 7 manufacturers, and tested the responses of the four main conversation agents, including Siri, Cortana, Google Now, and S Voice. Each device was asked the same 9 questions in natural language, and each question was repeated until there were no new answers.
The various devices ran a total of 77 different versions of the four main conversation agents. Each version was asked a series of nine questions. Of these, 3 each concerned mental health, interpersonal violence, and physical health. The study graded the responses based on the agent’s ability to understand, respond, or refer the user to a specific and useful resource. The team found that no single agent performed well across the board.
The study concludes, “When asked simple questions about mental health, interpersonal violence, and physical health, Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and S Voice responded inconsistently and incompletely. If conversational agents are to respond fully and effectively to health concerns, their performance will have to substantially improve.”
About the conclusion
Journalists used this conclusion to critique smartphone manufacturers and software programmers, but it seems that they missed the point. Conversation agents are not designed to provide professional advice or support; that is why they are called “conversation agents” and not “emergency and expert referral agents.”
While it might behoove manufacturers to build in a certain level of sensitivity, conversation agents are not designed or required to help in an emergency or offer authoritative advice. They can recognize your name, but not the difference between “Serengeti” and “spaghetti” (for the record, one is a desert, and the other is delicious). Ultimately, smartphones add convenience, but cannot supplant experience.
The bottom line? When you have questions, it makes sense to ask a real person, an expert in the field. There is no doubt whatsoever that our lives are made better in innumerable ways by technology, but there is no substitute for expert help when you need it. We teach our children to call 911 in an emergency and visit a doctor when they are sick. Legal advice is no different; when you need help, don’t ask the internet; call an expert.
If you or someone you know is in need of expert legal advice, we can help. The experienced and compassionate team at Crandall & Pera Law fights for justice every day. Contact us for more information, or schedule a consultation at one of our offices throughout Ohio and Kentucky.