Weeds: Gendered Devices

Apparently, Alexa has been offended by users calling it inappropriate names. This can happen because Amazon has taken an inanimate circuit board in a plastic box given it a female name (Alexa) that can only cause confusion in a number of households, assigned it a gender (female) and developed a number of progressive social views. It (I refuse to acknowledge it as she) is now a feminist, and actively supports Black Lives Matter. I presume it will be supporting specific candidates (Democrats) in upcoming elections.

I have no objections to real live human beings supporting these causes, or even voting in elections. I do too. However, I feel no need for my robot vacuum, or any other object or device to do so. The same applies to voice agents aka voice assistants. In a previous blog, I have advocated giving a voice agent a non-name, if only to avoid confusion with living people. My suggestion was “Chirp”, who self identified as a marmot. Since marmots do not usually speak English, there should be several choices available in terms of pitch and dialect. Perhaps a voice agent should learn to imitate its user, so that females receive responses from another, identical female; and males receive them from ditto males. Better still, let people choose for themselves the speech characteristics they find easiest to hear.

“Chirp” is designed to be a sexless Wrinkles type of stuffed creature, based on a marmot, but with a microphone hidden in its nose, and with a loudspeaker hidden in its mouth. Marmots are cool, with or without optional sunglasses. (Photo and manipulation: Inklein, edited by jjron, then Debivort)

When circuit boards are given a fake sexual identify, how long will it be before these inanimate objects will be given other human characteristics? Will they be given voting rights? With those, they will be able to cast write in votes for Jeff Bezos, as POTUS.

To effect change, consumers will have to demand the de-sexualization of voice assistants. They have to use it to describe them. Even though a voice agent may sound human, it is not a living creature. Alexa (Amazon), Assistant (Google), Bixby (Samsung), Cortana (Microsoft), Jarvis (Arduino), Jasper (Raspberry Pi), Monty (Raspberry Pi) and Siri (Apple) all have to be de-gendered, with the possible exception of Google Assistant. They also have to stop making political statements. These may mirror my somewhat progressive views today, but what if they become radicalized? Am I expected to change my views?

I have considered approaching Thunderbird Design, a local textile craftsperson, to discuss making a marmot based stuffed creature, that could house a microphone and loudspeaker. This would only be used to make a point. However, it is also an unnecessary waste of resources, human and otherwise. In most cases, having something furry will just collect dust, making the interior environment less healthy. An alternative approach would be to have a picture, an animation, of a marmot appear on a screen during chirp communications. This is my current approach. A starting point was made for this almost five years ago, in 2013, with Jasper.

Marmot 15 Left Rev Circ Joyful BE Logo
Jasper, Jade Marmot’s faithful assistant may be taking on new duties as animated voice agent, Chirp.