About a robot and a boy



Credit: Cult of Mac

In a recent article published in the Toronto Star, “To Siri, with love”, writer Judith Newman illustrates Siri, the built in intelligence system for Apple iPhones, as her autistic son’s modern day imaginary friend. Newman explores the ways Siri has positively helped her son Gus, in several areas of life such as speaking clearly, picking up on social cues, encouraging politeness, and providing emotional support, among other things.

It is great that parents like Newman have the privilege of something like Siri to teach their kids basic human social skills; however, she fails to mention the dangers of this kind of mentality in a society with a growing dependence on technology.  Newman quotes William Mark, Vice president of information and computing sciences at SRI, “Your son will be able to proactively get information about whatever he’s interested in without asking for it, because the assistant will anticipate what he likes”. In other words, there will be no need to think or work for the information because the machine will just do it for you. Easy, huh?

Newman quotes Mark again, “Humans are not patient. Machines are very, very patient”, which implies that machines allow humans an easy alternative from practicing difficult but necessary skills such as patience. What is being taught here? It is certainly not a motivation to learn skills on one’s own determination and hard work. Instead, it offers the idea of making life as easy as possible because humans will have to do as little as possible. How is her son, or anyone for that matter, going to learn things for himself if machines will just do everything for you?  Newman concludes the article by recalling a conversation between Gus and Siri that involved Gus asking Siri to marry him when he grows up.  Newman expresses her joy that her son is even talking about getting married since, as the parent of an autistic child, this is one of their main concerns.  Technology is undoubtedly useful, especially when it can be specifically used to help with mental disabilities, but it is only useful to a certain extent before it crosses the invisible line and becomes detrimental to a person’s social well-being. The best quality of learning these skills ultimately comes from experiencing real human interactions.

While for Newman this revolutionary technology has shown positive effects for her family, she makes no mention of the potential negatives that come from relying on it too heavily. The unhealthy overdependence on technology that is growing in our society, especially in the younger generation, is already frightening enough… naïve mentalities like Newman’s work to progress our impending doom of a virtual reality becoming our only reality.

To access the original article in The Star, visit thestar.com

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