Join us at TNW Conference 2022 for insights into the future of tech →

The heart of tech

This article was published on July 15, 2015

Siri tries not to misgender Caitlyn Jenner but that’s thanks to Wolfram Alpha not Apple

Siri tries not to misgender Caitlyn Jenner but that’s thanks to Wolfram Alpha not Apple
Mic Wright
Story by

Mic Wright

Reporter, TNW

Mic Wright is a journalist specialising in technology, music and popular culture. He lives in Dublin. He is on Twitter at @brokenbottleboy. Mic Wright is a journalist specialising in technology, music and popular culture. He lives in Dublin. He is on Twitter at @brokenbottleboy.

Last time we checked in with Siri, it was to ponder its downright harsh answer to “dividing by zero.” Today’s queries concern Caitlyn Jenner.

BuzzFeed reports that if you’ll be corrected by Apple’s virtual assistant if you ask questions using Jenner’s pre-transition name ‘Bruce Jenner.’ And that’s true. But it’s not down to the folks in Cupertino.

IMG_1106
IMG_1105

Instead, the correct information comes from Wolfram Alpha. If you ask “How tall is Bruce Jenner?” or “What is Bruce Jenner’s real name?”, you’ll get answers correctly referring to Caitlyn.

Screenshot 2015-07-15 17.05.45

Try the same queries on the Web version of Wolfram and you’ll be similarly steered away from misgendering her.

Ask Siri “Who is Bruce Jenner?” and it’ll point you to Wikipedia’s entry under that name (which redirects to Caitlyn Jenner’s page) but Siri will read out excerpts from out-of-date text.

Similarly, queries like “How old is Bruce Jenner?”, which rely on Wikipedia, don’t flag up that she has now transitioned.

Regardless of where Siri is getting its data from, it’s good that the virtual assistant offers the correct answers…most of the time.

The big mistake – and it’s easy to make – is to think of Siri as a person rather than a cluster of different databases with a thin paste of pseudo-personality spread on top.

Update: Wikimedia has reached out to us with the following message:

“We were delighted to see Apple and Wolfram Alpha’s efforts to correct queries that misgender Caitlyn Jenner. When Ms. Jenner announced her transition, the editors at English Wikipedia also wanted to ensure the article about her respected her identity. Within an hour of the Vanity Fair article being published, English Wikipedia moved Caitlyn Jenner’s article to her new name. You can learn more about the process, and English Wikipedia’s guidelines for respecting gender identity, in our blog post, How Wikipedia covered Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.

We’re not entirely certain why Siri is returning a result for a Wikipedia article that no longer exists. We hope that is corrected soon!”

Siri shuts down anyone who tries to call Caitlyn Jenner by her old name [BuzzFeed]

Read NextBreaking Bad’s Aaron Paul asked Siri to divide by zero and now everyone is doing it

Image credit: Caitlyn Jenner on Instagram