By Carla K. Johnson
Ask Alexa or Siri about the weather. But if you want to save someone’s life? Call 911 for that.
Voice assistants often fall flat when asked how to perform CPR, according to a study published Monday.
Researchers asked voice assistants eight questions that a bystander might pose in a cardiac arrest emergency. In response, 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 responses suggested calling emergency services for help — an important step recommended by the American Heart Association. Some voice assistants sent users to web pages that explained CPR, but only 12% of the 32 responses included verbal instructions.
Verbal instructions are important because immediate action can save a life, said study co-author Dr. Adam Landman, chief information officer at Mass General Brigham in Boston.
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.
For the study, published in JAMA Network Open, researchers tested Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana in February. 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 yielded better responses. But when the prompt was simply “CPR,” the voice assistants misfired. One played news from a public radio station. Another gave information about a movie titled “CPR.” A third gave the address of a local CPR training business.
ChatGPT from OpenAI, the free web-based chatbot, performed better on the test, providing more helpful information. A Microsoft spokesperson said the new Bing Chat, which uses OpenAI’s technology, will first direct users to call 911 and then give basic steps when asked how to perform CPR. Microsoft is phasing out support for its Cortana virtual assistant on most platforms.
Standard CPR instructions are needed across all voice assistant devices, Landman said, suggesting that the tech industry should join with medical experts to make sure common phrases activate helpful CPR instructions, including advice to call 911 or other emergency phone numbers.
A Google spokesperson said the company recognizes the importance of collaborating with the medical community and is “always working to get better.” An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on Alexa's performance on the CPR test, and an Apple spokesperson did not provide answers to AP's questions about how Siri performed.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.