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 everyday life. 

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 — gender.

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 female persona. 

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 stigmatized.

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? 
Are technology companies catering to our desire for robotic assistants with personality, or are they reinforcing our biases about gender, and the roles that women play?