Here's Why Siri Can't Find Abortion Clinics

Siri, are you pro-life? Siri, are you a proto-Republibot? Siri, are you... just a crappy search engine?

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land raises a point that makes a lot of sense: Siri's regrettable Abortiongate scandal mirrors, more or less, the growing pains that Google faced as it went from popular upstart to search monolith:

Google is a battle-scarred veteran in these matters. Why does an anti-Jewish site show up in response for a search on "Jew?" Why did President George W Bush's official biography rank for miserable failure? Why do you get THAT result for a search on Santorum?

That sounds familiar! And it's relevant to Siri's little tiff this week because Siri is really just a search engine—and a kind of dumpy one at that.

Well, that's not totally fair. Siri has a lot going on. She's complicated. Siri's biggest feature is natural language interpretation, and she's as good at that as anything else we've got. There's a lot of leg work getting all of the homophones and syntax and synonyms and sentence diagrams lined up to where you can talk to a bunch of numbers and have an almost-person talk back to you.

But! There's still more work in taking that interpretation of human conversation and getting an accurate and useful search result out of it. It's a mess of tenses and definitions and descriptions that, frankly, almost no one but Google gets right, and the "Find me a hooker" Easter Eggs only raise the level of expectation further beyond what Siri's basic infrastructure can satisfy. Apple didn't seem to realize this, or at least didn't act on it effectively, so now it's getting banged on because its nascent search engine can't connect the word "abortion" to a medical center that doesn't use that word in its description. That's Search 101, fellas.

Google and Apple's Siri are the only two search services to go through these mini-scandals because they're the only two who have done it on so public a stage with so very high expectations. Siri's already got the Apple sheen, so polished that we expect the same quality that we get from so many other facets of Apple. But it's not there. Sure, it's a tall order trying to learn and integrate search, location services, and the whole of human interaction on the fly. But it's Apple's own fault for thinking it could lock down search as an afterthought.

So no, Siri isn't Pro-Life. She's Bing. [Search Engine Land]