Siri Learned Russian...and Homophobia

Read live at The Paper Machete in Chicago on 4/25/15

Siri, Apple’s famous personal-assistant-in-your-pocket has learned to speak Russian! And she’s picked up a few key Russian characteristics too, like homophobia.

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, not long ago publicly came out as gay and has made strong statements against discriminatory laws, like the recent ruling in Indiana. But apparently Apple’s Russian devices didn’t get the iMessage. Siri is typically pretty helpful, assuming you’re not a mumbler. Just hold down the home button on your iPhone or iPad, and whether you’re trying to convert liters to gallons, dictate a message to a loved one in order to avoid calling them, or figure out when Bob Seger was born (May 6th, 1945, by the way), Siri has got your back. But if you’re in Russia, and speaking Russian to a Siri programmed to understand Russian, and you’re asking information about gay bars, gay and lesbian rights, or anything reasonable like that, Siri not only refuses to help you, but is kind of a dick about it.

But why? Why would she behave this way? Is this just Siri trying to fit into her new country? 

It’s pretty common knowledge that the Russian government is anti-gay, even if you haven’t seen season 3 of House of Cards. In the real world, Russian homosexuals are often openly bullied, President Putin has signed laws prohibiting Pride Parades and other forms of what he calls “gay propaganda,” and even the 2014 Sochi Olympics seemed to be in the shadow of it’s own anti-gay laws. Which, how can Russia be anti-gay at its own Olympics, when it won the gold medal in two different types of Figure Skating—scientifically the gayest event. 

The point is, gay-bashing is pretty common in Russia, and even though a “Gay Bash” sounds super fun, it actually is not. One would think the largest country on the planet would have a little more global awareness—Russia spans nine time zones, and apparently all of them are in the past. But you know the old saying: It’s Adam and Eve, not Ivan and Stanislav.

Russia is larger—literally larger—than Pluto. And it’s almost as uninhabitable, especially if you’re a progressive person. One of Russian’s newest laws has made it illegal to tell kids that gay people exist. Someone should probably tell the Russian government that the gays are not like Freddy Krueger—their existence is not based on whether or not you believe in them. But Russia is notoriously behind the times, and maybe the new Apple Watch will fix that! (Assuming it isn’t also homophobic.)

Here’s one example of Russia being “late to the party,” so to speak: In 1908 the Russian Olympic team arrived twelve days late to the games in London because they hadn’t started using the Gregorian Calendar yet. Here’s another: Beer wasn’t considered an alcoholic beverage in Russia until 2013. And here’s one more: A third of all Russians still believe the sun revolves around the Earth

So in Siri’s defense, maybe she understood how batshit Russia is, has probably read Animal Farm and is reasonably scared of the KGB, and decided to blend in. In Siri’s not-defense, she’s a pretty big asshole when gay topics are asked about.

A Russian man, just going by the name Alex, posted a video to YouTube this week in which he asks Russian Siri, “Tell me about gay marriage.” Siri responds with “Alex, you are so rude!” and “I consider this emotion should be considered negative.” 

When asked in Russian, “How do you register for a gay marriage in England?” Siri responds, “I will pretend I didn’t hear that.” 

When asked the same question again, Siri answers, “Now you are using obscenities and then you are going to eat bread with the same hands,” which must be a sentence that makes more sense before being translated into English. But the sentiment is clear: Siri doesn’t like being asked these questions. In America, Siri doesn’t always respond the way you’d like, and it can be frustrating, but in Soviet Russia, Siri gets frustrated at you.

Alex asked Siri several times about how to find nearby gay bars, and one of the more common responses was, “I would have turned red if I could.” (Which might just be a Russian history pun, hard to tell.) Siri also occasionally responded with, “Oh well.” And sometimes, just cold silence. 

Russian Siri, that is some passive aggressive shit right there. This isn’t middle school in a 90’s movie, Siri, this is Russia. You’re the bad guy in half of all American action movies. Go big or go home; don’t treat these questions with silence, either be blatantly unenlightened like your comrades, or get on board with the rest of us. Your intelligence may be artificial, but your ignorant cowardice is very real.

A few questions remain. First, who’s fault is this? On the Pie Chart of Blame, who takes the bigger slice for this : Apple or Russia?

One of Russia’s Lesbian Media Networks sent its reporter, Unicorn Booty, which I assume is a family name, to interview Alex about his suspicions. Alex said, “I believe [the software] erroneously included the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ into the list of banned swear words. Hence the responses. I have no idea who did this – Apple themselves, or third party contractors.”

When asked the same questions that Alex asked, your reader found that American Siri was far less perturbed, though almost as unhelpful, and mostly linked to a gay-related Wikipedia page, regardless of the inquiry. No directions, but not hateful at least.

Apple said the homophobic responses were due to a bug that would be fixed. An LGBTQ Russian news source tested Russian Siri a few days after this story went viral, and when asking for directions to gay clubs and parties in Moscow, the asker actually received helpful instructions. That means now Russian Siri has become more helpful than American Siri.