For a few brief moments, comic book fans around the world were shocked to hear some tragic news. But luckily, the panic didn’t last long. As first reported by CinemaBlend, Siri spent a little time this week telling people that Stan Lee had died on July 2. Why would a computer program falsely report a famous figure’s death? You can blame a Wiki user for that.
In a post on CinemaBlend, writer Sean O’Connell described a moment where he and his teenage son were driving home from an Ant-Man and the Wasp screening on Wednesday, to have his son ask Apple’s digital assistant Siri how old Stan Lee was. The response? “Stan Lee died on July 2, 2018.” They were concerned and checked the internet for news, but there was none... because it wasn’t true. But we were curious why Siri would share this specific information.
Sources tell us the problem can be traced back to revisions in Lee’s Wikidata. If you look at the profile’s recent history, Wiki user “&beer&love” changed Lee’s Wiki data to include a “date of death.” Since Siri pulls data automatically from Wiki pages, without edit or modification, the program temporarily included the false death claim. The timing of the inquiry just happened to coincide with the false information being present at that point.
As of now, the information has been changed back and the user’s page is deleted—it looks like it’s not the first time they’ve been removed as a user. While the incident only looks to have lasted less than a day, it does raise questions about the information that programs like Siri are using, and how much we can rely on it, given how easy it is to add false information.
Apple declined to comment.