Can Your Voice Assistant Save Your Life? Probably Not

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • In a recent study, Alexa, Google, Siri, and Cortana missed the mark on lifesaving CPR instructions nearly half the time.
  • Voice assistants recommended calling 911 only 28% of the time.
  • ChatGPT provided relevant CPR information and instruction 100% of the time.
  • AI isn’t ready to take over for real-life intervention in cardiac emergencies.

A recent study set out to determine how effective voice assistants like Amazon Alexa are at giving lifesaving CPR instructions. With nearly half of U.S. adults utilizing voice assistants and a growing number turning to them for healthcare needs, their potential role in emergencies is becoming increasingly significant.

However, the study revealed that individuals relying on voice assistants for CPR guidance would likely be disappointed. Almost half the time, voice assistants, including Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana, provided information unrelated to CPR. This raises substantial concerns as delays or misinformation during a cardiac event can have dire consequences.

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Researchers find voice assistance for CPR lacking

Researchers used eight different question prompts that a good Samaritan might use during an emergency cardiac event. Nine out of 32 responses recommended calling emergency services, and only 12% provided verbal instructions. Some answers directed the user to written instructions rather than relaying them verbally.

In striking contrast, the study found that ChatGPT (version 3.5 by OpenAI) managed to provide relevant CPR information for every query posed, outperforming voice assistants in their native setting.

The research highlighted that of the voice assistants tested, only 28% of the responses suggested the primary and most critical step—calling emergency services for help. This omission is especially alarming as survival rates from cardiac arrest rely on prompt and accurate emergency response, which includes calling 911 immediately.

While some might argue that a bystander's first instinct during such an emergency may not be to "Ask Siri," the reality is that in a state of panic, many might rely on easily accessible devices like smart speakers or phones for guidance. The importance of voice assistants providing timely, accurate, and precise instructions can't be overstated.

And despite ChatGPT's commendable performance, researchers found the AI tool inconsistent in its responses, pointing to the need for further improvements. Ultimately, the study recommends that the technology industry actively collaborate with the medical community to ensure the best and most accurate emergency advice from AI and voice assistants.

Voice assistants in emergencies: Amazon Alexa and Google Home

Even though you shouldn't rely on Alexa or Google Assistant to deliver CPR, voice assistants can help in some emergency situations.

Severe weather alerts

With Mother Nature's continuing onslaught of extreme weather, it's important to stay on top of the latest alerts and warnings.

  • Alexa can notify you about severe weather events when prompted. You can manage this function in the Amazon Alexa app, where you can refine alert types and frequency.
  • Google smart speakers currently do not support severe weather alerts.

Emergency calls to contacts

If you can't find your phone during an emergency, both Echo and Google Nest devices can call a saved contact for assistance.

  • To set up emergency calling you need to grant permission in the respective apps (Alexa or Google Home). 
  • A subscription to Alexa Together connects up to 10 users to another’s Amazon Echo. This service is designed specifically for seniors and their loved ones.
  • Test the features before relying on them in emergencies.
  • Calls to 911, premium, three-digit, international, and dial-by-letter numbers aren't supported.

Basic medical guidance

Alexa and Google Assistant can provide basic medical advice from reputable sources like the CDC.

  • They can answer questions on fundamental medical issues but cannot diagnose or treat ailments.
  • Users should consult with medical professionals in case of health concerns—these devices are only supplemental aids.

Home security and safety alerts

Google and Amazon Echo speakers can detect sounds like breaking glass and smoke alarms and send alerts to your phone.

  • With a paid Nest Aware subscription, Google smart speakers can detect the sounds of a break-in and smoke and CO alarms.
  • The Google Home app has an "Emergency Calling" feature to contact a nearby emergency call center.
  • With the paid Alexa Guard Plus plan, Echo devices can detect similar sounds, play deterrent tones like sirens or dog barks, and support hands-free calls to a nearby emergency helpline.

The future of voice assistants and emergency help

In summary, voice assistants can offer valuable support during emergencies but shouldn't replace professional help. During an emergency like a cardiac event, prioritize calling emergency services over seeking help from a voice assistant. However, with improvements and active collaboration between tech and healthcare professionals, the future could see Alexa and Siri playing a more helpful and lifesaving role.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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