Android’s Iris, a Siri-like service, changes stand on abortion

What does your smartphone think about abortion?

If it is powered by Android, and running the Siri-like voice-recognition system Iris, you may be surprised to learn that until Wednesday morning, it was decidedly anti-abortion.

Cha Cha, the real-time Q&A service that powers Iris, has made some changes as of this morning, but before that, if you asked Iris “Is abortion wrong?” the answer you got was: “Yes, abortion is wrong. The Lord has said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Exodus 20:13. The life that is growing within the mother is a child, a baby. The Bible looks at the life in the womb as a child. Thanks!”

This came as fantastic news to Tony Perkins of the conservative group Family Research Council. “This droid is as pro-life as they come,” he said in a quickie broadcast on the group’s website. “I guess that’s why they call them smartphones!”


Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo, who broke the story about Iris’s opinionated answer to the morality of abortion and other controversial questions, was less delighted. In an article titled “This is the bigoted, racist, anti-abortion search engine that powers Android’s Siri Rival” he also blasts Iris’ answer to other questions like “Is rape ever justified?” (Answer: “Realistically speaking, that is a matter of opinion. There is no evidence of the US government every ‘justifying.’”) and, “Is Satan real?” (Answer: “Yes, Satan is real. Satan is the spirit of evil. He is not a person. He is an adversary of God, tempter of mankind.”)

Of course it’s not really Iris’s fault. Iris (Siri backward) was developed by a company called Dextera as a tongue-in-cheek response toApple Inc.'s popular Siri service, but the app caught on in a big way. Now it has a four-star rating from more than 37,000 reviews in Google’s Android Market and has 5 million installed programs.

In January, Dextera partnered with a company called ChaCha that bills itself as a real time Q&A service — employing 180,000 paid and unpaid workers called “guides” to answer any question that a user might send in.

“We do encourage our guides to be opinionated,” said Shawn Schwegman, chief marketing officer for ChaCha. “If people are asking Iris factual questions like, ‘Who is the first president of the United State, we’ll give them a factual answer. And if you are asking for an opinion we are going to give the opinion of one of our 180,000 guides.”


Still, ChaCha did amend some of the answers on its database after the Gizmodo story broke.

Now if you ask ChaCha’s online site if abortion is wrong, it supplies this answer: “Some people believe abortion is wrong because all human life is sacred. Others argue that it is wrong to bring an unwanted child into a harsh world, or that ‘life’ doesn’t begin at conception, or that other considerations are also important. There is no one simple answer.”

As for Siri, if you ask her if she thinks abortion is wrong, she sends you to an abortion clinic.