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Dear Lord Above

Alexa, why does the brave new world of AI have all the sexism of the old one?
Yomi Adegoke

Because we’re dealing with human beings love. A sexually dimorphic species.

For years, we have looked forward to a future in which our lives are made easier by technology, but in it women (or rather, robots anthropomorphised as women) are still not free from the gender binary. And that is because real women aren’t either. It seems we envisage sexism even in society at its most advanced and progressive. We imagine our eventual overlords as male, but our helpers as aproned females – like the Jetsons’ maid, Rosie. A true technological utopia for women would be one where the future of AI isn’t female, but genderless, as all work should be.

We can – and we do – change the societal manifestations of that dimorphism. But eradicating it is only going to come when we’re a different species…..

11 thoughts on “Dear Lord Above”

  1. It’s the Guardian, you can’t win (by design). If Alexa is male, it reinforces the Patriarchy. If Alexa is female, it reinforces blah blah blah.

    Even if Alexa was a blue-haired fat lesbian they would find some absurd way of twisting it.

  2. “A true technological utopia for women would be one where the future of AI genderless, as all work should be.”

    What’s this 50% of the owners of mobile phones want genderless digital assistants? Did anyone tell the capitalists?
    That sounds like a lot of moolah is being left on the table just for the plucking.

  3. Just looking at her ‘output’ and it seems clear she owes her advancement entirely to the quality of her journalism, her race and gender being entirely irrelevant…

    First time I have been exposed to her (Cheers Tim) and definitely one to watch out for in future links. Extraordinary….

  4. One of the voice choices that came with our satnav is an Irish guy called Sean. It is on a female voice setting at the moment because I got a bit bored with Sean and changed it and nobody has bothered to change it since. We don’t really care one way or the other as long as it tells us which way to go. Anyway, shouldn’t I be worried about a female voice telling me what to do? It might be perpetuating the Matriarchy or something.

  5. I always thought it’d be rather fun to have one of those satnav voices with Brian Blessed or Basil Fawlty. OTOH, that also may get a bit dull after a while.

  6. Dear Yomi,

    We we really hoping to get a lot of women, especially women of color like yourself, involved in the design and engineering of Alexa. We were offering top dollar too.

    However, 95% of the women applying for jobs at Amazon want to work in PR, HR or marketing, so we were a bit stuck. Perhaps that’s why our products are so awfully sexist.

    Sorry about that,


  7. Back in the day when I used to have TomTom we changed the default voice (English lady) to an Australian bloke, whom we christened ‘Bruce’. Many voices are generally available, including Jeremy Clarkson.

  8. Bloke in North Dorset

    These people are prepared to give all their data and intimate secrets to Google/Amazon/Apple and probably even the truly evil Facebook with out a care in the world except for the gender of the voice.

    They deserve all they get.

  9. The study she cites comes from UNESCO. Frankly, I’ll take any UN agency’s coments on sexism seriously when blue-helmet peacekeepers stop raping refugees and running brothels. Until then, I think they could well benefit from a nice hot cup of Shut the Fuck Up.

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