November 29, 2016 – How You Speak To Siri & Alexa Matters More Than You Think — Here’s Why
“Alexa, what are you wearing?”
“Alexa, are you horny?”
“Alexa, how much do you weigh?”
Alexa — Amazon’s freestanding virtual assistant — doesn’t wear or own any clothes, she can’t (physically) feel horny, and she doesn’t weigh a single pound. Nevertheless, some people find it normal, and even funny, to pose questions like the above (and other Easter Eggs) to the popular voice-controlled helper. (Alexa started out as the machine-learned voice behind the brand’s plain black speaker, Amazon Echo, and has since expanded to a full range of products.)
Would we be asking a virtual assistant the same questions if the voice were male?
Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana are some of today’s most well known virtual assistants. All are female, and all elicit an image of an assistant who is not just a woman, but a woman people can boss around, flirt with, and act inappropriately towards. Compound that with portrayals in the media — like this 2015 magazine cover showing female robots sitting at typewriters — and it all starts to feel like a big step backwards rather than one towards the future.