A Black Lives Matter activist speaks as a crowd gathers to begin a demonstration at the World Trade Center in Manhattan. June 4, 2020.
Spencer Kimball | CNBC
Apple and Google recently updated their smart voice assistants. They now explain the Black Lives Matter movement when asked “Do black lives matter?” and also provide updated responses to “Do all lives matter?”
It shows how tech companies need to quickly update their technology to align with world events. Voice assistants need to be able to understand nuance and properly respond to a question now and in the future. Separately, during the spread of coronavirus, for example, Google and Apple updated their voice assistants to provide additional information on Covid-19.
People have taken notice of the changes that support the Black Lives Matter movement. On popular social network TikTok, for example, users have been posting videos of themselves asking “Do black lives matter?” and the answers that they’re given. Likewise, people are posting screenshots and quotes to Twitter, recognizing the companies for updating their software and recognizing Black Lives Matter.
Google Assistant and Siri don’t just provide a response to these questions, either. They also tell users they can learn more by visiting BlackLivesMatter.com, giving them the potential not to just answer basic queries but also to educate their users. They explain, for example, that the phrase “all lives matter” has been used to criticize and downplay the Black Lives Matter movement.
The responses from Google Assistant and Siri were updated within the last week.
Apple’s HomePod (left) displayed next to the Google Home and Amazon Echo devices. Apple’s entry into the smart home device market was “late to the game and mispriced,” says Wedbush Securities managing director Dan Ives.
The Washington Post | Getty Images
If you ask Google Assistant “Do black lives matter?” it now says: “Black lives matter. Black people deserve the same freedoms afforded to everyone in this country, and recognizing the injustice they face is the step towards fixing it.”
Asking “Do all lives matter?” gets a very different response: “Saying ‘black lives matter’ doesn’t mean that all lives don’t. It means black lives are at risk in ways others are not.”
Meanwhile, if you ask Siri “Do black lives matter?” it says: “Yes, black lives matter. (BlackLivesMatter.com).”
And if you ask “Do all lives matter?” Siri says: “‘All lives matter’ is often used in response to the phrase ‘black lives matter,’ but it does not represent the same concerns. To learn more about the Black Lives Matter human rights movement, visit BlackLivesMatter.com.”
Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant, which is built into its Windows 10 operating system, responds similarly to the question: “Do black lives matter?”
“Yes. And Black Lives Matter is an important movement that’s shaping a national conversation about racism.” When asked whether all lives matter, it pulls in a Wikipedia entry: “According to Wikipedia.org, ‘all lives matter’ is a slogan that has come to be associated with criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement.” A Microsoft spokesperson wasn’t immediately available to confirm whether these responses are new.
Amazon’s Alexa does not distinguish as clearly between the two questions. It says: “Black lives matter. I think people deserve the be treated with fairness, dignity and respect” and “I think everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect,” when asked the same questions as the other assistants.
An Amazon spokesperson wasn’t immediately available to comment.