Digital assistants, or conversation agents, are the wave of the future. It seems that big tech announces updates or new features every week that tweak the way we interact with our smartphones, tablets and computers. The vision of the future that sells new devices is a seamless, natural language interaction; simply ask a question and the answer is delivered instantly.

In practice, there have been quite a few stumbling blocks for agents like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Google Now, among others. Real time voice processing is immensely difficult, and working out exactly what was spoken requires vast amounts of processing power. These devices have access to a massive amount of information, but finding the correct answer to a given question is akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Research reveals fundamental limitations

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine online edition has found that smartphones are severely lacking when it comes to getting help during an emergency. Researchers tested 77 versions of 4 different conversation agents across 68 devices. They found that while smartphones are providing more and more health and lifestyle information, they perform abysmally when it comes to providing emergency help.

Dr. Robert Steinbrook, a researcher at Yale University and editor-at-large of JAMA Internal Medicine, emailed Business Insider, explaining, “Even the best computer program wouldn’t be able to match the advice provided by a doctor or a trained counselor. But because many people may still turn to their phones when they don’t know where else to go for help, it’s crucial that these voice systems know how to direct people in medical emergencies.”

When you need help, talk to an expert

We couldn’t agree more with Dr. Steinbrook’s assessment. Conversation agents should be able to provide help in an emergency. There may come a day when your smartphone can detect a medical issue and alert emergency services automatically. That day is not here yet. For now, there is no substitute for expert help. Whether that help is medical, legal, financial or other, trust the experts, not your phone.

If you or someone you know is in need of legal advice, the experienced and compassionate attorneys at Rocky McElhaney Law can help. For more information, call 615.246.5549, visit our offices in Nashville, Gallatin, or Knoxville or contact us today. We fight for your rights. We fight for you.