Limitations of the study include the lack of data on every type of phone, operating system or conversation agent available in the U.S., the researchers note.
Even the best computer program wouldn’t be able to match the advice provided by a doctor or a trained counselor, Dr. Robert Steinbrook, a researcher at Yale University and editor-at-large of JAMA Internal Medicine noted in an accompanying editorial.
But because many people may still turn to their phones when they don’t know where else to go for help, it’s crucial that these voice systems know how to direct people in medical emergencies, Steinbrook said by email.
In email to Reuters Health, an Apple spokesperson said, “Many of our users talk to Siri as they would a friend and sometimes that means asking for support or advice. For support in emergency situations, Siri can dial 9-1-1, find the closest hospital, recommend an appropriate hotline or suggest local services, and with ‘Hey Siri’ customers can initiate these services without even touching iPhone.”
A Microsoft spokesperson told Reuters Health, also by email, “Our team takes in to account a variety of scenarios when developing how Cortana interacts with our users with the goal of providing thoughtful responses that give people access to the information they need. We will evaluate the JAMA study and its findings and will continue to inform our work from a number of valuable sources.”
Representatives for Google and Samsung didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment after the study was released.