When it comes to aiding someone who is emotionally driven to kill him or herself, the right response can literally be a matter of life and death. In order to help those in crisis, Apple has updated Siri’s search response system to field suicide-related requests with an approach designed to drive users to seek help as quickly as possible.
With an update to phones running iOS 6 and iOS 7, Siri now reacts with a strong, two-fold approach when mentions of suicide come up. First, the assistant offers the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and will even offer to call directly — a new feature that makes seeking help as simple as clicking “yes” on the phone. If for whatever reason the user decides to select “no”, Siri does a search of all local suicide prevention centers, offering a list and directions powered by Yelp.
It’s clear from the update that Apple wants to prevent any potential response blunder and turn Siri into a usable tool for those in crisis to get the professional aid they need. But it’s also not the first company to target specific language towards suicidal users. Google has kept a list of “trigger search” keywords to indicate a user searching for suicide since 2010, and will also send back a suggestion to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Like Google, Apple is hoping that its approach will prevent users from seeking desperate methods through its services — and will get a little help instead. And it’s needed in the wake of unsettling news last month, when the New York Times reported that more Americans are dying from suicide than car accidents.
Apple’s update may be a small step, but it is one that shows that the tech community is thinking about how its products are utilized by those in need. Siri’s response to that single question or statement could have a big impact, and now the little robotic assistant can better assist people in their darkest hours.