An Imaginary Friend, With A Twist

Apple's Siri was the first of the current crop of "digital personal assistants" - a way for we humans to communicate with our mobile devices in a more natural way. What if you had an autistic child, and you suddenly became aware that the usually reticent kid was forming something of a relationship with Siri? It's kind of like an imaginary friend, but of course Siri is real enough in the sense that "she" is part of a concrete object. In this rather poignant story from the NY Times you can begin to see how a computer, robot, or in this case an app running on a mobile device could become a non-judgemental and infinitely patient teacher or friend figure to the writer's son, Gus.
It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.


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