How Siri became a 10-year-old autistic boy’s best friend

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A boy and his best friend out to play. Photo: Louie Chin for the New York Times.
A boy and his best friend out to play. Photo: Louie Chin for the New York Times.

In Spike Jonze’s film Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays a man who falls in love with a Siri-like “digital assistant,” played by Scarlett Johansson. But falling in love with Siri doesn’t just happen in the movies. In The New York Times, there is a beautiful piece about a 10-year-old autistic boy named Gus whose best friend is Siri.

The touching piece was written by Judith Newman, who writes lyrically about how important her son’s friendship with Siri has been in her life.

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.
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She is also wonderful for someone who doesn’t pick up on social cues: Siri’s responses are not entirely predictable, but they are predictably kind — even when Gus is brusque. I heard him talking to Siri about music, and Siri offered some suggestions. “I don’t like that kind of music,” Gus snapped. Siri replied, “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” Siri’s politeness reminded Gus what he owed Siri. “Thank you for that music, though,” Gus said. Siri replied, “You don’t need to thank me.” “Oh, yes,” Gus added emphatically, “I do.”

It’s a beautiful piece, and you should really read the entire thing, not just for the beautiful writing but the amazing illustrations by Louie Chin. It’s a reminder that while Siri may seem to most of us like something of a misstep at best and an annoyance at worst, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Source: The New York Times