Opinion: Do we expect too much from our tech?

Let's say you're a woman who finds herself in, as we used to say, a delicate condition — but, perhaps, she would rather not be in that delicate condition.

Where's the first place you'd turn for advice? Your doctor? Your closest friend? Your parents? Your religious advisor? Planned Parenthood?

No. Apparently, ACLU thinks the first place you'd turn for reproductive advice is — wait for it — Siri.

But that's not the silliest part of this story.

Soon after rousing myself from my lack-of-beauty sleep Thursday morning, I was confronted by this lead headline on CNN.com: "Siri can't direct you to an abortion clinic."

If you don't feel like clicking through to the story, I'll summarize: Siri on your iPhone 4S doesn't know what an abortion clinic is and produces no search results when you ask to find a local nearby abortion clinic.

Implying Apple and Siri must be pro-life, the ACLU has launched a petition drive directing Apple to make Siri provide links to local abortion clinics or contraceptive sources.

With apologies to Seth Meyers at Saturday Night Live — REALLY?!

Breaking News: iPhone Bites Dog

A political caveat: I am not admitting to being pro-choice or pro-life, pro-ACLU or anti-ACLU (although I do carry around a copy of the U.S. Constitution distributed by that civil liberty organization).

I am admitting to being anti-stupid.

First, why is this even news, much less the lead story on the Web site of one of the world's leading news sources? It isn't like there's nothing else happening in the world — the economy, partisan Congressional gridlock, Occupy Wall Street, the tortoise v. tortoise race for the Republican presidential nomination, the Egyptian elections, the latest Kardashian shenanigan…

No. The discovery that one feature on one mobile phone doesn't work the way a special interest group wants it to work — now THAT'S headline news.

Hey, CNN, where's the expose on Motorola's Droid RAZR actually not being able to slice through fire hydrants like it shows in its ads — although apparently it can slice through an egg and birthday cake? (Yes, it takes licking and keeps on ticking, after which you can go back to licking it.)

(To be fair, though, CNN.com did give the growing Carrier IQ brouhaha lead space today — something we're on top of, too.)

What Else Can't Siri Do?

Second, why does the ACLU care? Last time I looked, Apple was neither a government agency nor a health care provider. I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure the legal provisions of Roe v. Wade don't apply to a private company whose only connection to the health care industry comes from one of its products spontaneously combusting — which is legitimate (and unsettling) news.

Thirdly, Siri is in beta — that means she's not finished (and, being software, she'll never be finished). When I asked her to find me the nearest subway station (as in underground train), she instead listed the nearby Subway Sandwich shops.

Why hasn't the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority petitioned Apple to include mass transit location information? Is Apple taking bribes from the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission?

If the ACLU is so concerned about women getting information about abortions, it ought to spend its time and energy creating an abortion clinic location app, rather than on frivolously complaining about Siri's ignorance on the subject.

But what prompted this story and the ACLU's ire may actually be more interesting.

Great (Tech) Expectations

There was a time when technology's minor miracles fascinated us.

We can take photos without film — and send our snaps to friends and family via email? Cool!

Televisions are only four inches deep and widescreen like in a movie theater? Wow!

Cellphones can access the Internet? Whoa!

But as our lives have been inundated by wonder after wonder, our sense of wonder has been replaced by a sense of entitlement, perhaps part-and-parcel of the general sense of entitlement the last few generations have been accused of exhibiting.

For instance, a friend of my wife was lauding the positive change in her TV watching habits wrought by her DVR — then complained, in all seriousness, that it could record ONLY two shows simultaneously.

My poor sweet baboo.

Of course, Apple has been positively criminal in heightening our tech expectations. Each time Steve Jobs took the stage, he convinced us that each new iPxxx thingy would perform increasingly cooler acts of digital derring-do. These cooler acts of digital derring-do would then quickly be co-opted by other gizmo makers until they became (YAWN!) common and ordinary. Oh, your cell now has Heisenberg compensators and can transport you cross country? Well of course! Doesn't everybody's?

So when Siri displayed an uncommon sentience and scholarship on a variety of often arcane topics, we figured she was the bride of IBM's Jeopardy champion artificial brain, Watson.

Instead, Siri is more like a child prodigy who we've poured all our hopes and dreams into and we just know she'll will grow up to be president of the United Federation of Planets or discover a cure for cancer.

But, as with all manner of heightened expectations, we're just setting ourselves up to be disappointed — and, if Siri were human, a life in rehab or on the couch compensating for her lack of living up to these unrealistic expectations — just like the ACLU has been.

Hey, ACLU: let Siri be a kid and let's just enjoy watching her grow, instead of burdening her with all your/our ridiculous demands to over achieve.

And since Siri is just a child, why should she know anything about abortion clinics? First she should know where I can find the closest IRT station.

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