Shrink Rap News

Siri and the Psychiatrist


Those readers who follow our Shrink Rap blog know that I have a conflicted relationship with technology. My fascination with the many forms of connectedness that flow on the Internet is time-consuming and I only recently surrendered to a smart phone. I waited for the delivery of my new iPhone 4s and I started to wonder if the Siri function – advertised as a “personal assistant” – could make my life as a solo practitioner with no employees any easier. For the weeks before its arrival, I constantly wondered, “Will Siri be able to do this?” The anticipation built and I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment.

It’s been a couple of weeks now, and even after purchasing a How to Use Siri book (which I read on the phone), I still don’t have the complete hang of it. When it works well, it feels very efficient and almost like a miracle has transpired. When it doesn’t work, I wonder if it’s my fault or Siri’s and I struggle to get it right. Unfortunately, communication with Siri is a spoken event, and everyone else in the room gets to listen as I issue the same instructions over and over. So far, I have not used Siri in the presence of patients. Showing off Siri is a little like trying to parade a toddler’s ability to perform cute tasks – sometimes the child (or Siri) will perform for others, but often times she won’t.

Missed appointments create an inconvenience in the life of a private practitioner, and I will sometimes text patients to remind them of their appointments. With Siri, this is a very fast process. I hold up the phone and say “Please send a text to John Jones: Appointment reminder for tomorrow at 3.” It takes seconds and Siri is very good at locating the right person from my contact list.

In general, texting or dictating e-mails are much faster, but Siri’s accuracy seems to depend on a number of things. The dictation works best if there is no background noise. Speaking slowly and articulating each word improves – but does not perfect – the accuracy. Once the message is dictated, touching the screen allows the user to correct mistakes with key strokes. Overall, however, the accuracy of Siri’s ability to understand is disappointing and sometimes requires multiple attempts. As an example, I said to Siri, “Please e-mail Anne Hanson” (one of my co-authors). Siri did not quite understand the name. It responded, “Okay, who shall I e-mail?” and set up an e-mail with the subject line “in” (which I assume was a misinterpretation of “Anne.”) I repeated, “Anne Hanson,” a name Siri knows well. The response I received was rather perplexing, it said, “My mind is going, Dinah. It really is going.” Oh my, as a psychiatrist the last thing I need is emotionally unbalanced machinery.

Siri will add or delete calendar events and will warn of conflicts, or search for specific events. It will find contacts, but not add new ones or edit existing information. It will answer some questions, and is much faster and more accurate at serial calculations then I am with a touch screen calculator. It will answer specific questions (“What’s the weather?” “How old is Woody Allen?” “Where can I buy a hot dog?”) It will text, e-mail, create reminders, make a note, schedule (with issues), find a contact and map the way to that contact’s location, calculate, suggest restaurants, and search the web. It sets alarms more quickly and efficiently then any alarm clock with a simple, “Wake me at 7.” It will read texts aloud, but not e-mails. Sometimes it speaks and sometimes it shows. It is fairly quick to say: “I can’t help you with that.” It will play a specific song or playlist from the iPhone’s library. I asked Siri, “At 8:05, ‘play Horse With No Name.” Siri ignored the time request and began playing the song, I asked it to stop, and it replied, “Ok, I will play Stop! In The Name of Love,” and it did.

Siri does not interface with other Apps, and so it can’t be used with my billing software, medical apps, to post to Facebook or Twitter, and sadly, it absolutely insists that Shrink Rap is spelled Shrink Wrap, something I have unable to correct. At times, the system has gone down and Siri has been unable to connect with the network, but I suppose even human personal assistants call in sick.


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