A mother’s tale about her son, autism — and Siri

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

Read on! Long, informative, interesting.

I’ve always talked to machines. The conversation moved from cars to electronics to computers. Record-keeping has become data-mining. The river of experience has reached a rapidly broadening delta.

Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”

Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”

8 thoughts on “A mother’s tale about her son, autism — and Siri

  1. Donovan says:

    “Most Autistic People Have Normal Brain Anatomy” http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2014/10/25/autistic-people-normal-brain-anatomy/#.VE-tNedRdrE “A new paper threatens to turn the world of autism neuroscience upside down.” After extensive research the authors of “Anatomical Abnormalities in Autism?” { http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25316335 } suggest that “anatomical measures alone are likely to be of low scientific and clinical significance for identifying children, adolescents, and adults with ASD or for elucidating their neuropathology.”

  2. Mike says:

    (Oct 29th, 2014) “Dozens of genes associated with Autism in new research : Functions of newly identified genes converge on a few important biological processes” http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/uoc–dog102814.php “Two major genetic studies of autism, led in part by UC San Francisco scientists and involving more than 50 laboratories worldwide, have newly implicated dozens of genes in the disorder. The research shows that rare mutations in these genes affect communication networks in the brain and compromise fundamental biological mechanisms that govern whether, when, and how genes are activated overall.”

  3. Parent says:

    “National Geographic Spotlights Autism’s Gut-Brain Connection” http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/national-geographic-spotlights-autism%E2%80%99s-gut-brain-connection research indicates different gut bacteria in autistic individuals may be contributing to the disorder and that the development of specific probiotics may improve symptoms. Includes link to NatGeo article, which has much more information and also links to relevant studies and research. Note Caltech postdoctoral researcher Elaine Hsiao’s work with engineered mice (based on earlier studies showing that women who get the flu during pregnancy double their risk of giving birth to an autistic child) and the effects of 4EPS, a molecule produced by gut microbiomes.

  4. Collateral damage says:

    April 2, 2015: “Illinois governor cuts autism funding on World Autism Day” http://abc7chicago.com/society/state-funding-for-autism-program-cut-on-world-autism-day-advocate-says/612111/ “Advocates say for every dollar Illinois spends on its best-in-the-nation autism assistance programs, $7 are either earned or saved. So they say cutting well-honed programs that are doing right by their clients is at best misguided – if not plain cruel.”

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