Is That a Girl in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Abusive to Robots?
The science behind artificially intelligent technologies is developing faster than most would have ever anticipated. These technologies are beginning to span into realms that reach to include what could have once been considered science fiction, and as artificial intelligence systems become more sophisticated, more capable of social interaction, and as common as the smartphones we all keep in our pockets, our interactions with them are extremely significant. Considering that the four most used voice controlled virtual assistants all are female, either in character, or just in tone, it could be suggested then that their usage can perpetuate, normalise, and even fetishize submissive, obedient gender expectations. These oppressive views might become much more commonplace unless actively discouraged, but since AI assistants are developed to encourage user engagement, being unfailingly cheery, funny, and polite, it would mean that confrontational, quashing responses to harassment are avoided - instead opting to side-step, be coy or flirtatious, or feign ignorance. As the usage of virtual assistants continues to rise, a growing concern is that the overwhelmingly common use of a female voice in these subservient, passive roles will reinforce the aforementioned attitudes towards women, compromising our progress to equal treatment. To combat the detrimental social effects caused by female gendered AI assistants, we should make AI assistants androgynous or gender neutral. Research shows that people have an innate preference for human voices, particularly feminine ones, but that enthusiastic engagement can still be nurtured through cooperation even if the voice is eerily not-quite-female or not-quite-male.
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