Siri and My Learning Disabled Daughter

I ran across this article from a few months ago by Matt Honan criticizing Apple’s Siri “Siri, When Will Personal Digital Assistants Finally Work?” (maybe he should have called it “when will Siri make people take computer security seriously, but that’s another article). The articles goes on and on about how awful Siri is compared to Android voice search.

Being a Certified Apple Hater (seriously — I had to take a test for that), I’m up for any article that bashes Apple and trumpets Android, except in this case my real world experience contradicts Honan.

First, as far as I’m concerned, voice systems are awful especially when they actually work. I’ve blogged before about my freaking Kinect screwing up my Netflix viewing experience when someone in the room utters the wrong goddamn set of phonemes. Moreover, there is nothing more annoying than sitting in a room with someone else who is talking to their phone or tablet.

But for Christmas, my kids each got an iPad. My son’s usage of the iPad was pretty much what I expected — games and web browsing. I was curious, though, how my daughter would use the iPad because of her unique learning disabilities. She is one of about 20-30 people identified so far who have a duplication of genes on a specific chromosome that causes an odd conjunction of cognitive limitations. In general she has a lot of trouble moving from specifics to generalizations which, among other things, means that even though she’s only 16, she reads at maybe a 3rd grade level.

Somehow she discovered Siri on her iPad, though, and it is now a frequent companion. If my 10-year-old son wants to know a geeky fact like how much the moon weighs, he goes to Google and finds the answer. Something like that would be extremely difficult for my daughter, but she quickly learned that “Siri, how much does the moon weigh?” will get her a usable answer almost all of the time.

She will sit and ask Siri questions for 20-30 minutes at a time. She is very impressed that Siri “knows” her name and will greet her with a “Good Morning, Emma.” When I asked her what she thinks of Siri, she told me “Siri is like having a sister.”

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