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Culture Beat / May 24, 2019

UN Says Alexa, Siri Voices Are Harmful Stereotypes

Report claims that the female AI voices reinforce negative gender stereotypes.

A recently released report from the United Nations serves as a classic example of the often worthless nature of the anti-American world body. The UN’s Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization contends that female-voiced artificial intelligence (AI) assistance programs, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, are damaging to society because they reinforce gender stereotypes.

The report asserts that the AI assistants’ default female names and voices send the message that women are “docile and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like ‘hey’ or ‘OK.’” In fact, the UN laments, “The assistant holds no power of agency beyond what the commander asks of it. It honors commands and responds to queries regardless of their tone or hostility.” Maybe this is because these AI assistants are simply computer programs designed to respond to user commands, or they’d otherwise be useless.

As Saniye Gulser Corat, the direct of gender equality at UNESCO, explains, “Obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices. Their hardwired subservience influences how people speak to female voices and models how women respond to requests and express themselves. To change course, we need to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether AI technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.”

Not surprisingly, Amazon defended its decision based on actual scientific research that found customers generally prefer a gentler female voice. “We carried out research and found that a woman’s voice is more ‘sympathetic’ and better received,” said Amazon’s “Smart Home” division chief Daniel Rausch.

Nevertheless, we’d venture to guess that if the AI assistants’ voices were defaulted as male, these same UN busy-bodies would warn us of reinforcing masculine gender stereotypes such as dominance or authority. “Toxic masculinity!” they’d shout.

What makes this report even more ridiculous is the fact that customers are often free to change these default AI voice settings to male should they desire to do so. Is it any wonder that so many of us see the UN as little more than an expensive joke?

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