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.”

Differentials in Life Expectancy by Educational Attainment

An interesting study was published in Health Affairs last year finding a fairly stark difference in life expectancy based on years of education (emphasis added).

In this article we update estimates of the impact of race and education on past and present life expectancy, examine trends in disparities from 1990 through 2008, and place observed disparities in the context of a rapidly aging society that is emerging at a time of optimism about the next revolution in longevity. We found that in 2008 US adult men and women with fewer than twelve years of education had life expectancies not much better than those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s. When race and education are combined, the disparity is even more striking. In 2008 white US men and women with 16 years or more of schooling had life expectancies far greater than black Americans with fewer than 12 years of education—14.2 years more for white men than black men, and 10.3 years more for white women than black women. These gaps have widened over time and have led to at least two “Americas,” if not multiple others, in terms of life expectancy, demarcated by level of education and racial-group membership.

The actual study is behind a stupid paywall, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus as to what is causing such a large gap. Part of it appears to be down to things like increased smoking rates among people with less education (especially white women) as well as more obvious things like higher levels of education begin correlated with better access to health care.