Making Siri a genderless helper
BY wangxingwei from 21st Century
Published 2019-08-12

When was the last time you heard a “male” voice assistant? Chances are never, as most of the artificial intelligence (AI) we’re used to hearing is “female”, like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. However, a new UN study argues that this shows a negative gender bias.
上一次你听见“男性”语音助手的声音,是什么时候?很有可能你从没听过这样的声音,因为我们所使用的大多数人工智能助手都是“女性”的声音,比如苹果的Siri和亚马逊的 Alexa。但联合国的一份新研究却认为,这体现了一种负面的性别歧视。

The UNESCO report has looked into the effect of having female voice assistants, saying they encourage the idea that women typically hold assistant jobs and that they should be “docile”.

“Because the speech of most voice assistants is female, it sends a signal that women are obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like ‘hey’ or ‘OK’,” said the report.

Meanwhile, by naming voice assistants with traditionally female names, like Alexa and Siri, tech companies have also strengthened stereotypes of women, according to the report. For example, in Norwegian, Siri means “a beautiful woman who leads you to victory”, according to The Week magazine.

The stereotypes caused by female voice assistants have raised concerns.

“Stereotypes do matter because they come back to affect how young girls and young women see themselves and the way they have dreams and aspirations for the future. It’s almost like going back to the image of women that was held in the 1950s or 1960s,” UNESCO’s gender equality director, Saniye Gulser Corat, told Time magazine.

It’s believed that the problem is a result of the fact that there are not so many women workers in the tech field.

Currently, 80 percent of AI professors are men, while just 15 percent of AI research workers at Facebook and 10 percent at Google are women, according to a New York University report in April.

“These mistakes happen because you do not have the diverse teams and diversity of thought,” Allison Gardner, a co-founder of Women Leading in AI, a UK think tank, told The New York Times.

To deal with the problem, some technologists have been designing a genderless digital voice, reported BBC News. The report also calls for more women to be involved in the tech field.

“A more gender-equal digital space is a distinct possibility, but to realize this future, women need to be involved in the inception and implementation of technology,” noted the report.

(Translator & Editor: Wang Xingwei AND Ji Yuan)
Male  男性的
Artificial intelligence  AI, 人工智能
Gender bias  性别歧视
Docile  温顺的
Obliging  乐于助人的
Blunt  生硬的
Stereotypes  刻板印象
Norwegian  挪威语
Aspirations  愿望
Digital  数字的
Involved  参与
Inception  开始
Implementation  实施