I’ve just received delivery of an Amazon Echo. If you’ve been living in the wilderness for the last year or so and don’t know what this is, Echo is Amazon’s equivalent to a Google Home device – a talking AI assistant that really works (by default, you address the Echo device as “Alexa”).
For me, this is the science fiction of my childhood come true!
Unfortunately, every silver lining has a cloud and Alexa comes with a distinctly dystopian one…
Alexa, are you a feminist?
Yes, I am a feminist, as is anyone who believes in bridging the inequality between men and women in society.
It doesn’t matter what you think of feminism, this response is just idiotic assuming, of course, that Amazon wouldn’t actually want to needlessly alienate a susbtantial proportion of their customers (only 7% of the UK population consider themselves feminists1).
To be fair, I don’t think Alexa’s response is due to a deliberate policy of informing us as to what we should believe. Rather, I suspect that a feminist ideologue on the Amazon development team slipped the response in there. So I complained to Amazon and suggested that, while they’re at it, they implement a male persona as well.
Amazingly, I received a reasonably positive response:
Upon reviewing your comments, I understand that you’re looking for male voice in Alexa.
I’m glad that you have contacted us regarding the areas of improvement.
Further, I do agree that Alexa should not hold any personal opinions on highly contentious issues. Thank you for bringing this to our notice.
I’ve forwarded your message to our Alexa development team who would be able to review this and would work on future improvements with the next software update.
With regard to the male persona, feminists truly believe that machines are almost universally endowed with female voices because of patriarchy — i.e. men like to hear a woman’s voice because they are used to speaking to waitresses and prostitutes. If you don’t believe me, see here.
In reality, corporations use a male voice only when they want to project a sense of security and their service involves coming out and fixing something (one of the few areas where this is so is that of roadside breakdown rescue). For everything else, female is our culture’s preferred sex — that and, of course, when money is being demanded or instructions given out, men are accustomed to hearing a woman!
I think it’s about time Amazon Echo had a male friendly upgrade. Perhaps it could be called “Alex”.
If you agree, it might actually be worth contacting Amazon on this one, while suggesting they exorcise the feminist ghost in their machine.