She wakes me up in the morning. She puts on my favorite music. She turns off the lights for me and tells me goodnight. She’s not my mother, or even my roommate. She’s my Google Home.
“So what do you think about the fact that all of these AI devices are voiced by women?”
Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it until my boyfriend asked me one night. I had spent several years of using Siri, and owning a Google Home and even as a self-proclaimed feminist it never crossed my mind that the voice-assistant devices we were listening to all happen to have female voices. As our relationship with technology enters a new stage of intimacy it’s important to take stock of what that means for our lives, but it seemed so natural of a creation that it didn’t even cross my mind.
That’s because engineers built the voice we wanted. A soothing, calm, agreeable voice that would abide by our every whim. “We tested many voices with our internal beta program and customers before launching and this voice tested best,” an Amazon spokesperson told PCMag when discussing Alex. We grew up listening to the nurturing voices of our mothers attending to our more domestic troubles, so why not make the voice a natural fit?
Ok well, let’s tie this to real-life-gender-dynamics now. Women are the majority of the domestic workforce– 75 percent of all unpaid care and domestic work is performed by women, with an average of up to three hours more a day doing housework than men. Are virtual assistant replicated because of these dynamics?
The problem with only-female voiced AI devices is that these stereotypes are enforced. Domestic work = female work continues to be reinforced just by listening to the sound of the weather report.
As an experiment, I did ask my Google Home if she was a feminist. “I believe in equality for all. So yes, I’d say I’m a feminist.” Thank you at least to the human that programmed that response. Now can we build a way to unload all the systematic problems of having the voice of a woman at our beck and call will cause?