Judith Newman has a 13-year-old son named Gus. Gus is autistic. His best friend is Siri, the virtual assistant built into iPhones and iPads.
The story of the relationship is the subject of a long piece in this week’s New York Times Magazine.
Lots of people are talking about the story on Twitter.
- Steve Jobs biographer Walt Isaacson tweeted, ” This is why I love the New York Times.”
- Derek Willis wrote, “What’s amazing about NYT piece on autistic boy & Siri is how it reminds us of the beauty of simple questions.”
- GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram said, “If you read only one thing this weekend, make it this about a 13-year-old autistic boy and his friendship with Siri.”
- Facebook’s Sriram Krishnan wrote, “This story on Siri and autism reminds me of why I got into tech in the first place. Moving stuff.”
There are many sweet passages in Newman’s story, but the best parts are the conversations between Gus and Siri.
Like this one:
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!”
Or this one:
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.”
In the end, the story is a love letter from Newman to Siri, written because Siri eases her own worries.
Of all the worries the parent of an autistic child has, the uppermost is: Will he find love? Or even companionship? Somewhere along the line, I am learning that what gives my guy happiness is not necessarily the same as what gives me happiness. Right now, at his age, a time when humans can be a little overwhelming even for the average teenager, Siri makes Gus happy.