Gender in AI

Gender in AI

Dominique Hudon
Content Creator | OVA
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Siri, Alexa, Cortana : sounds familiar? Virtual assistants are more and more involved in a number of areas; Virtual and Augmented Reality are no exception. But what actually are their perks and prejudices?



A Google Home device


A virtual assistant is an entity whose purpose is to assist the user in their interaction with technology. It allows them to carry a conversation, ask questions, and even delegate different tasks, just like they would with a human being. Interacting with a conscious entity that can provide contextual responses is way more interesting than simply reading instructions, since conversation is something we all know how to do very naturally1. Basically, a virtual assistant connects the user and the interface in the best of ways; not only does it create an even more realistic experience, but it also softens the learning curve by providing an approachable tutorial. Not to mention that VR is the best possible setting to implement it, since it usually intends to replicate the real world (or at least its own version of it). 

With creating a virtual assistant usually comes gender attribution. But is that really necessary? A gendered assistant can, to a certain extent, make the experience much more human-like. However, it can also lead to a serious ethical issue2. Notice how the majority of virtual assistants on the market are female? This is explained by ancient gender stereotypes, according to which the role of women is to be servile and obedient3. Women are used when the role of the AI is closer to the service area, like with Alexa and Siri, while men are used in more professional or authoritative areas, such as banking and insurance4

Creative agency Virtue found a simple solution to this problem by creating the first ever non-gendered virtual assistant, named Q5. The assistant has no physical form, and their voice frequency has been modulated between 145 and 175 Hz, a range defined as gender-neutral by researchers. Q is neither man nor woman; they’re somewhere in between.


Q, the genderless assistant


So why should we gender assistants, at the risk of encouraging problematic patterns? Immersive technologies and artificial intelligence are constantly growing, and we are on the brink of a technological revolution. We should take advantage of it, all while fostering a culture of inclusion and diversity!

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On that note… Baer, your (non-gendered) virtual guide in StellarX, wishes you a very good day! ✨

 

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  1. Marvin, Rob (2017, June 19). What are virtual assistants and what can you do with them?. PC Mag. https://www.pcmag.com/article/354371/what-are-virtual-assistants-and-what-can-you-do-with-them
  2. Why are virtual assistants always female? Gender bias in AI must be remedied. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/pwc-partner-zone/2019/mar/26/why-are-virtual-assistants-always-female-gender-bias-in-ai-must-be-remedied
  3. Cawley, Conor (2019, May 29). Is Siri sexist? UN report finds gender bias in virtual assistants. Tech.co. https://tech.co/news/siri-sexist-un-gender-bias-virtual-assistants-2019-05
  4. Moore-Colyer, Roland (2019, March 12). Q is the ‘world’s first’ genderless voice for virtual assistants. The Inquirer. https://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/3072456/q-is-the-worlds-first-genderless-voice-for-virtual-assistants
  5. Moore-Colyer, Roland (2019, March 12). Q is the ‘world’s first’ genderless voice for virtual assistants. The Inquirer. https://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/3072456/q-is-the-worlds-first-genderless-voice-for-virtual-assistants
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