This January, Tim Cook made the astonishing assertion that Apple’s greatest contribution as a company would be in healthcare. Now, nine months later, we might have a bit more of an idea what the heck he was talking about.
A recent report from The Guardian uncovered pages of internal Apple documents containing Siri functionality instructions and transcripts. The investigation focused on the way Apple made changes to Siri’s answers to questions about feminism, gender equality, and the #MeToo movement. But it also contained some information about what Apple has in the works for its oft-struggling voice assistant overall.
Specifically, the documents revealed a list of Siri upgrades stated for release by 2021. That included increased healthcare functionality for Siri, with “the ability to have a back-and-forth conversation about health problems.”
SEE ALSO: Do doctors even want the Apple Watch’s health features?
Back in January, Cook declined to specify what exciting health features Apple had in the works. Could this be part of what he was talking about?
“There will be more things coming,” Cook said at the time. “I don’t wanna tell you what they are. (…) I’m not gonna forecast precisely, the ramps and so forth. But they’re things that we feel really great about, that we’ve been working on for multiple years.”
Since Cook’s statement, Apple has released more health features for the Apple Watch, but nothing that might make you say, wow, Apple really did revolutionize healthcare! Transforming Siri into a personal healthcare assistant — who perhaps has the ability to diagnose illnesses from symptoms, like an aural WebMD, or connect you directly with doctors, or call 911 — could be a step in that direction. All of these possible functions would dovetail with Apple’s claims about its Apple Watch, as the “ultimate guardian for your health.”
Tapping voice assistants for healthcare is something other companies and researchers are working on, too. Some hospitals are implementing Google Assistants to help manage patients, and researchers at NYU are even exploring how vocal cues could be used to diagnose conditions including heart disease and PTSD.
On a simpler scale, and even without a back-and-forth conversation, asking Siri for health results, generated from WebMD or Mayo Clinic, doesn’t sound like it should be so hard. And, for other voice assistants, it’s not.
Mashable asked Google Assistant and Siri the same question: Do I have a cold? Google Assistant expresses sympathy, asks you for more information about what symptoms you’re experiencing (through pre-written prompts), gives advice for how to treat symptoms, and ultimately advises you get in touch with a doctor.