The fact that female voices are the default for AI assistants, such as Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa, is sexist, according to a recent study from the United Nations.
The report says that having female-voiced AI assistants ‘reflects and reinforces’ the social belief that assistants and those in supportive roles are female.
The title of the report is ‘I’d blush if I could,’ which is one of the responses that Siri gives to users if they addressed Siri as a slut.
“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,’” the report reads.
Since voice assistants will reply to any command regardless or tone or hostility, this can reinforce gender biases that women are tolerant of poor treatment, according to the report.
The report also touches on the fact that female-voiced AI send subconscious messages to children. The researchers believe the AI assistants teach children about the role of women and girls, which according to the assistants is to reply on demand.
“The more that culture teaches people to equate women with assistants, the more real women will be seen as assistants — and penalized for not being assistant-like,” Calvin Lai, a Harvard University researcher, explained in the report.
Many female-voiced AI respond flirtatiously when they are met with offensive comments, which is another reason why researchers believe they are sexist. If a user verbally harasses the assistant, they either playfully dodge it or reply positively.
Siri will default to a female voice is most countries, but interestingly will default to a male voice in countries where the language is French, Arabic, Dutch, or British English.
Although you can always change the gendered voice of many AI assistants, it does not solve the issue because the default is almost always a female voice.
The authors of the report studied voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri technology to conduct their analyses.