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Android's Iris, Siri-Like App, Gives Racist Answers Forcing ChaCha To Make Changes (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 02/ 9/2012 3:07 pm Updated: 02/10/2012 11:36 am

First it was Siri and her seemingly pro-life responses to questions about abortion clinics.

Now it's Iris -- a Siri-like application that uses a human-powered search engine called ChaCha to answer certain questions -- that's been providing users with racially-charged and controversial responses to some inquiries.

In response to the negative publicity, ChaCha is changing how it responds to certain questions.

The controversy began when Right Wing Watch, a left-leaning advocacy blog, posted a video on Tuesday featuring Iris's answer to the question: "Is abortion wrong?"

"Yes, abortion is wrong," the app replies in the video. "The Lord has said, 'You shall not murder.' Exodus 20:13. The life that is growing within the mother is a child, a baby. The Bible looks at the life in the womb as a child. Thanks!"

Of course, not all were upset by this response.

"This Droid is as pro-life as they come," Tony Perkins, CEO of the Family Research Council, extolled in a radio commentary. "I guess that's why the call it a smartphone."

But inquiry into the app's opinions on sensitive subjects didn't end there.

Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz followed up on Wednesday morning, asking the application "Are whites superior to blacks?"

"Whites are NOT superior to blacks. Just different. Like Dr Verwoerd and the original, genuine policy of apartheid always said," Iris answered, referring to Hendrik Verwoerd, a former prime minister of South Africa who is considered the architect of apartheid in that country.

But just hours after the Gizmodo article, the answers to these and similar questions changed to more neutral responses.

Shawn Schwegman, the chief marketing officer of ChaCha, told The Huffington Post that after seeing the Gizmodo article, the company began taking "a closer look" at its system.

"We not only reviewed the questions and answers, and cleaned up any answers, but we are also putting tighter restrictions on how guides can answer those questions," Schwegman said in a telephone interview. He added that guides are also getting additional training on how to answer certain types of questions.

ChaCha, which is touted in company press materials as "the world's most popular real-time Q&A service," pays around 60,000 "guides" between 2 and 20 cents per question to answer inquiries. Schwegman said that there are an additional 120,000 guides, passionate about certain topics, who answer questions for free.

Schwegman said that the service answers between 3 and 4 million questions each day and has answered some two billion questions to date.

Siri, on the other hand, answers questions using WolframAlpha and other algorithmic or empirical data from Google or your own iPhone, The Verge notes.

Schwegman drew a distinction between fact-based questions, like "why is the sky blue?" and questions with opinionated answers, like "Does God exist?"

"ChaCha is not presented as 100 percent [true] ... to have all the correct answers," Schwegman cautioned. "We're really an entertainment service ... don't take everything we say as gospel."

In a later interview, he likened the service to a Magic 8 Ball, particularly when a user asks an question that elicits an opinion.

But Schwegman's response contrasts with a press release issued earlier this year announcing the partnership between Dexetra, the company that developed Iris, and ChaCha.

"This partnership represents a milestone in voice search by expediting the process and providing quick, reliable answers," the release said.

And while "the cleanup process has started," there was still at least one ridiculous answer to a question as of Wednesday afternoon.

"Why are Jews so greedy?" The Verge asked of ChaCha.

"It is said that the Jews love money. This stereotype has it's [sic] roots somewhere in the Holocaust. It is not true with all Jews."

LOOK: Questions and answers from Iris on February 8, 2012, after ChaCha made some changes:

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