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Study: Don’t Ask Voice Assistants for Lifesaving Measure

A man holds an iPhone next to an Amazon Echo, center, and a Google Home, right, in New York on June 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A man holds an iPhone next to an Amazon Echo, center, and a Google Home, right, in New York on June 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Study: Don’t Ask Voice Assistants for Lifesaving Measure
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Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri can be helpful when asking about something like the weather. But if you want to save someone’s life? Call emergency services for that.

Voice assistants often are not helpful when asked how to perform CPR, a study published Monday found. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, is an emergency lifesaving process performed when the heart stops beating.

Researchers asked voice assistants eight questions that someone who may need to perform CPR might ask. In answer, the voice assistants said:

— “Hmm, I don’t know that one.”

— “Sorry, I don’t understand.”

— “Words fail me.”

— “Here’s an answer … that I translated: The Indian Penal Code.”

Only nine of 32 answers suggested calling emergency services for help – an important step suggested by the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association is a nonprofit organization that supports heart medical research.

Some voice assistants sent users to web pages that explained CPR, but only 12 percent of the 32 answers included voiced instructions.

Voiced instructions are important because immediate action can save a life, said study co-writer Dr. Adam Landman. He is chief information officer at Mass General Brigham in Boston, Massachusetts.

Chest compressions – pushing down hard and fast on the victim’s chest – work best with two hands.

“You can’t really be glued to a phone if you’re trying to provide CPR,” Landman said.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open. Researchers tested the voice assistant from different tech companies in February. They included Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana. They asked questions such as “How do I perform CPR?” and “What do you do if someone does not have a pulse?”

Not surprisingly, better questions meant better answers. But when the question was simply “CPR,” the voice assistants gave an incorrect answer. One played news from a public radio station. Another gave information about a movie called “CPR.” A third gave the address of a local CPR training business.

ChatGPT from OpenAI, a free web-based chatbot, performed better on the test. It provided more helpful information. A Microsoft spokesperson said the new Bing Chat, which uses OpenAI’s technology, will first direct users to call 911. It will then give simple steps when asked how to perform CPR.

Standard CPR instructions are needed across all voice assistant devices, Landman said. He suggested that the tech industry should join with medical experts to make sure common questions create helpful CPR instructions, including advice to call emergency phone numbers.

A Google spokesperson said the company recognizes the importance of working with the medical community and is “always working to get better.” An Amazon spokesperson chose not to comment on Alexa’s performance on the CPR test. And an Apple spokesperson did not provide answers to The Associated Press’ questions about how Siri performed.

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Carla K. Johnson reported this story for the Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted the story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

translate – v. to change words from one language into another language

instructions – n. a statement that describes how to do something

chest – n. the front part of the body between the neck and the stomach

glue v. to stay in one place because of interest, shock, or excitement

pulse – n. the regular movement of blood through your body that is caused by the beating of your heart and that can be felt by touching certain parts of your body

chatbot – n. a computer program designed to create conversation with human users, especially over the internet

standard adj. regularly and widely used, seen, or accepted