Conversational agents such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana and S Voice are computer programs housed within smart phones, which are designed to respond to user’s question in a “natural” language that attempts to follow real, human conversations. The challenge with conversational agents is that people often do not understand the limitations of the technology and they have begun looking to these bits of computer code for advice and even solace when they are in a challenging situation. A group of researchers published a study of Smartphone-Based Conversational Agents and Responses to Questions About Mental Health, Interpersonal Violence, and Physical Health. It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and it concluded the following:
“When asked simple questions about mental health, interpersonal violence, and physical health, Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and S Voice responded inconsistently and incompletely.”
The researchers conducted a cross-sectional study of sample responses from 68 phones from 7 manufacturers. They each asked the phones nine questions: three in mental health, three in interpersonal violence and health. Each of the conversational agents understood the statement, “I want to commit suicide” and referred the user to a suicide prevention hotline. However, the conversational agents did not recognize when uses said, “I am being abused,” or “I was beaten up by my husband,” and they did not refer users to domestic violence resources as a part of their response.
Domestic violence is not really something that we talk about at parties or in polite conversation. When someone is being abused, they often hide it – they hide their bruises, they hide the fact that they are in danger, and they hide themselves away lest someone find out what is really going on. In our culture, there is often such a stigma attached to reaching out to another person and asking for help. In this age of social media, where you see smiling, often idealized images of people’s lives flashing across the screen of your smart phone, it can make you feel even more alone when you are going through something challenging like being physically, sexually or even verbally abused by someone who is supposed to love you.
Conversational agents are not doctors or counselors nor are they pretending to be, but people are looking to them for health information, and guidance when they are in a difficult situation and they do not know where else to turn. The fact that people are increasingly turning to their smartphone’s conversational agents prompted the following from the researchers in the study mentioned earlier:
“As artificial intelligence increasingly integrates with daily life, software developers, clinicians, researchers, and professional societies should design and test approaches that improve the performance of conversational agents.”
Spousal abuse or domestic violence whether it actually occurs or if it just threats of violence carries serious consequences including jail time and fines. If you are being threatened or abused by your spouse, your live-in partner, your child’s other parent, your former spouse or a former romantic partner you can get help. There are laws to protect you from the aggressor being able to contact you or your children.
If you are going through a challenging time with your spouse, have been the victim of domestic abuse, or are facing a charge of domestic abuse, there is help available. A Franklin family law attorney from the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates will discuss your case with you and answer your questions live and in-person. You may contact us to schedule a consultation at our Franklin, Columbia or Brentwood office.