To Siri With Love
by Judith Newman
Judith Newman was persuaded to write To Siri With Love after the reaction to her article in The New York Times telling of her autistic son’s “affinity” with Apple’s virtual assistant. Instead of technology being isolating, it was receptive, polite and “nice”, everything you’d want an imaginary friend to be, except that Gus didn’t communicate with Siri thinking it was human. He just felt inanimate objects were worthy of consideration – and marriage (Siri turns him down diplomatically). And, Newman admits, frankly, the tirelessness with which Siri “discussed” planes, escalators and the weather with Gus was a relief because she valued her sanity as much as she loved her son, one of fraternal twins who, aged six, was described as being “on the spectrum”.
Newman’s book, which enters a growing field of writing on the subject, stands out because of her ability to meld a joyous sense of the absurd with serious research and her gimlet-eyed observation of a child who, as a baby, “didn’t ask, didn’t reach, didn’t demand”. Autism, she writes, is a dysfunction of empathy, not a lack of it.
It’s impossible not to like Newman, Gus and the book as well.