This Boy with Autism Needed a Friend, And Along Came Siri!Matthew M. Sullivan
In last week’s New York Times Magazine, writer Judith Newman, in scene, asked herself, “Just how bad of a mother am I?” as she observed her teenage son “deep in conversation” with Siri — Apple’s iOS digital personal assistant.
Gus: “Siri, will you marry me?”
Siri: “I’m not the marrying kind.”
Gus: “I mean, not now. I’m a kid. I mean when I’m grown up.”
Siri: “My end user agreement does not include marriage.”
Gus: “Oh, O.K.”
Gus Newman, Judith’s thirteen-year-old son, is on the autism spectrum. He often had difficulty with human-to-human interactions, like many children with autism, and his conversations would often seem tangential or fragmented. But in her article, Judith states, “My son’s practice conversation with Siri is translating into more facility with actual humans.”
Though one might argue that Gus’s conversations with Siri are not merely “practice.” Rather, they are discussions between two intelligent beings — one of which happens to be a digital application, and the other a human — both of whom take each word by its most literal meaning.
Take for instance the excerpted conversation above: In just a few short lines, something incredible happens. Gus, curious about the prospect of marriage, proposes to his closest friend, Siri. The proposal is more absurd than Jack Powell asking Miss Marquez to join him at the dance. However rather than replying, “No way, that’s ridiculous,” Siri shoots the absurdity right back. When she recognizes that Gus might be serious, she tells him the truth — and the truth is sufficient, albeit just as absurd.
So exactly how bad of a mother is Judith Newman? Well, ignoring the fact that she wrote an article about her son’s close relationship with Siri in a national magazine for anyone to read, she seems to be a darn fine mother.
She was able to identify a need within her son (his need to communicate with someone or something that understands him), and recognized that she could not fulfill that need (Judith: “Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo…”), and found someone that could (“…I could brightly reply: ‘Hey, Why don’t you ask Siri?'”).