Jamelle Bouie hits the nail on the head when it comes to why, exactly, Apple's artificially "intelligent" voice recognition software is more adroit about finding strip joints than reproductive health services: it's got a lot to do with who provides the data-combing infrastructure, and the online data infrastructure, the Siri engine relies on.
In all likelihood, Siri was developed and optimized by a team of all dudes or mostly dudes. And while they made sure to include things that were gender-neutral (like mental health services), there was no effort to approach Siri from the perspective of a woman user. Indeed, reproductive health is a classic male blind spot — it’s women who are “supposed” carry the responsibility for contraceptives. Men, in general, get a pass. The problem with Siri isn’t that the programmers hate women, it’s that they weren’t even on the radar.
Given the extent to which women are underrepresented in the tech industry, you could almost say that this — or something like it — was bound to happen. What’s more, we can expect it to happen again. It might not be Apple, but as long as the background sexism of Silicon Valley remains undisturbed — and reinforced by the industry’s illusion of meritocracy — we can assume that some company will do something else to alienate women.
All the lip service in the world, in fact all the good will in the world, won't help the gender blind. Another good example, a software company I worked for in the 1980s paid a branding company on the order of a million dollars to come up with a name for one of their flagship products, one that had been carefully selected for its positive, all-business connotations in multiple languages across multiple continents.
Minutes after they announced the result of their months-long effort the two or three women on the 30-40 person team sent email around saying something like "you realize that's almost exactly the same spelling and pronunciation as a major American tampon brand, right?" No one else on the team had noticed, probably because, being men, none of them had ever consumed those products or even likely shopped down the grocery store aisles where such products are sold. The company went with a different name.
I can't vouch for the consulting firm but whatever else you could say about my employers, neither the company nor the product team leads were malevolently misogynistic. Instead they were just desperately clueless about a thoroughly ordinary element in the lives of roughly 60% of their target demographic!
Anyway, Bouie's right -- as long as women are underrepresented in the production side of the tech industry the industry's going to continue giving itself these unforced errors, own goals, and public-relations black eyes. Fortunately there's a relatively easy way to fix the problem, and at least to some extent it's slowly fixing itself. But even with the best of intentions this is a great illustration of how in the absence of active initiatives institutional inertia will continue to weigh the industry down.