Apple improves Siri's suicide prevention safeguard

By Aditi Pai
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Suicide HotlineOn the iOS 6 and iOS 7 versions of Siri, the digital assistant software has been updated so that it will offer to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, instead of simply showing the nearest locations of suicide prevention centers like older versions of Siri did, according to Huffington Post. If the user chooses "no," Siri lists options of the closest suicide prevention centers.

On Apple devices that aren't phones, like an iPad or an iPod touch, Siri reads the phone number out loud, and also lists the closest suicide prevention centers.

Last month, the Center for Disease Control reported in 2009, the number of deaths due to suicide exceeded the number due to car accidents in the US.

In 2011, MobiHealthNews speculated about Siri's capabilities in regards to mobile health. At the time, Siri could define medical terms, locate nearby hospitals, schedule a medication regimen, offer nutrition facts for popular brands, but little else.

At last year's World Wide Developers Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook thanked the developer community for creating incredible apps for the Apple App Store. Of those highlighted, he mentioned three health apps, an app that helped visually impaired or blind people better navigate streets, another that helped students learn human anatomy and a third that helped kids with autism and speech impediments more easily communicate and develop their communication skills. Although Apple promoted the impact of native health apps, Siri got updates to make it better at sports trivia.

This month's Siri update, which adds in a suicide safeguard, is at least a first step in the right direction.

In somewhat related news, following the PRISM scandal, Apple released a note to explain the kind of requests it typically received from government agencies:

"The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide."