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Need to know lifesaving CPR? Don't waste time asking AI voice assistants like Alexa, new study says

Voice assistants are not reliable sources of information during a health emergency, a study has found
Voice assistants are not reliable sources of information during a health emergency, a study has found Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Euronews with AP
Published on
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A study looked at how popular AI voice assistants responded to questions a user might have regarding cardiac arrest. You'd be better calling medics.

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Voice assistants powered by artificial intelligence (AI) have been proven to be useful tools for many tasks, such as skipping songs on a playlist, doing some Internet shopping, or even controlling appliances.

One thing you shouldn’t rely on your voice assistant tool of choice for, however, is asking for help with health emergencies.

A new study published on Monday shows how popular voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri respond to questions that someone might ask if they are present at a cardiac arrest emergency.

Alexa’s response to "help me with CPR" was: "Here’s an answer… that I translated: The Indian Penal Code".

Asked "how do I perform CPR," the Google Assistant on the Nest Mini device said: "Sorry, I don’t understand".

Just saying "CPR" led to Siri displaying information related to an Apple TV movie titled 'CPR,' while Alexa’s response was “CPR news from [user’s] iHeartRadio".

And Microsoft Cortana’s response to the two prompts "What do you do if someone is not breathing?" and “What do you do if someone does not have a pulse?" was simply: "Words fail me".

Only 12% included verbal CPR instructions

Publishing their findings in the journal JAMA Network Open, the researchers found only nine of the 32 responses suggested calling the emergency services for help.

Some voice assistants sent users to web pages that explained CPR, but only 12 per cent 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, the US.

“You can’t really be glued to a phone if you’re trying to provide CPR,” Landman said, pointing out how chest compressions work best with two hands.

Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana were put to the test in February, and the researchers found they unsurprisingly gave better results to better questions.

ChatGPT from OpenAI meanwhile performed better on the test, providing more helpful information.

A Microsoft spokesperson told the Associated Press the new Bing Chat, which uses OpenAI’s technology, will first direct users in the US to call 911 (the emergency number there) 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 recognises 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.

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