Technology | The Guardian

Alexa, why does the brave new world of AI have all the sexism of the old one?

May 22, 2019 at 05:39PM

Virtual assistants such as Google Home and Siri only encourage the attitude that women exist merely to aid men in getting on with more important things.

When women are over-represented in the workforce, it tends be in industries of assistance – cleaning, nursing, secretarial work and, now, the world of virtual assistants. Research by Unesco has shown that using default female voices in AI – as Microsoft has done with Cortana, Amazon with Alexa, Google with Google Assistant and Apple with Siri – is furthering the belief that women exist merely to help men to get on with more important things.

There is no real reason for AI technologies to be gendered at all, but we are at the mercy of tech companies “staffed by overwhelmingly male engineering teams”, fixated on living out a Captain Kirk fantasy and delegating to the subservient, silky-voiced computers of Star Trek. These systems are unapologetically built by men, for men. They can even struggle to understand the “breathy” voices of women as software is often developed with male voice samples.

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Alexa, why does the brave new world of AI have all the sexism of the old one? …

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