Communicating about Science, Health and the Environment
Monday, November 20, 2017
Why is AI female?
This Blog is Written By Roberta Duarte
In the past few years we've been experiencing a huge surge in conventional versions of artificial
intelligence assistants. Whether it’s
Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or Microsoft’s Cortana, AI machine ability to
interact with its users is becoming an ordinary and sometimes integral part of
Through voice queries and natural language aptitude, they answer
questions, make recommendations, and perform actions for us. These computerized
personalities can be deemed almost human-like. The more human we make them, the
more important it seems that we give them names, personality and —more worryingly —
But robotic assistants don't have a gender, really. Strip
them of the names and voices added by their human creators, there’s nothing
there that requires it to be ‘he’ or ‘she’, other than our own assumptions. Yet
many indeed do have names, and a disproportionate number of them are sold to
the public as ‘female’.
Sure, you can change Siri to a different gender
and even a different accent. But presently AI assistants seem to default to a
To a certain extent, us humans,are led by our assumptions and
biased truths. As we move into a new age of automation, the technology being created says an uncomfortable amount
about the way society understands both women and work.
Assigning gender to these AI personalities may be
saying something about the roles we expect them to play. Virtual assistants
like Siri, Cortana and Alexa perform functions historically assigned to women.
Society has long implemented the female role to
administrative, accommodating and aid lending positions. Assistant and
secretary positions are especially stratified female. With its roots in early
20th century industrial revolution, the employment of secretaries quickly
became women's work as companies realized they could pay women lower wages.
In fact, the preponderance of anticipated work to
be one day carried out by robots is currently undertaken by women and girls,
for low pay or no pay at all. A report by ONS quantifies the annual value of
the “home production economy” — the housework, childcare and organizational
chores done largely by women — at 1 trillion, almost 60% of the “official”
economy. From nurses, secretaries, and sex workers to wives and girlfriends,
the emotional labor that keeps society running is still feminized — and still
It is no mistake the face of AI is female. Always
ready and predisposed, these technologies take on distilled and idolized
femininity. Your AI is always working, always available, always ready at any
minute to provide assistance with a positive attitude. The gendering of AI is
purposely linked our to culturally underlying sexism. Customers interpret these
AI personalities through the lens of their own biases. Stereotypes about women
in service roles make female AIs easier to accept, which is the ultimate goal
for tech companies that want to make AI mainstream.
The fast approaching world of competent faithful
automated auxiliary is sadly all too susceptible to our long standing faulty
presumptions of the female role in society. Right now, as we expect AI
technology advancement to serve our personal organizational everyday needs, we
need to be conscious of our outstanding biases. It is imperative to question
why we feel the need to gender this innovative tool.
Consider the artificially intelligent voices you
hear on a regular basis. Your personal assisting device should be helpful,
compliant, and do as you say.
But should they also be female?
companies catering to our desire for robotic assistants with personality, or
are they reinforcing our biases about gender, and the roles that women play?