Ethics yes, politics no

All voice assistants encourage only one relationship dynamic — the servile companion: Always there for you, empathetic, cheerful, like a friend. But equally ready at all times to take orders and carrying out tasks, like a servant. It is no accident that the personality of the servile companion is enacted by a female voice — society is intimately familiar with women as casual servants in the roles of secretaries, housewives and mothers. As Ben Parr of Octane AI puts it, “We’re basically training our kids that they can bark commands at a female and she will respond.”

This italicized line is absolute bullshit and contradicts the reasoning behind using female voices in Voice UI stated previously in the article. Mother and wife as casual servant? I’ll have to mention that to my wife, or any partner to any man I know, and see how far it flies. The author appears to lack an understanding of the current state of voice interfaces – we can’t have a conversation with Alexa or Siri, we can only give tasks. It has nothing to do with servitude, and everything to do with replacing what we do with our fingers or pointing device, with our voice. We are a long way off from proactive assistants.

But from a brand perspective, the quest for universal likeability is misplaced. In personality design as in brand design, pandering to users can be self-destructive. Good brands don’t merely follow. Good brands are like good people. They believe in something and they stand for it. Standing for something is polarizing, but it’s the difference between expected and inspiring. Why shouldn’t a voice assistant balk when a user shouts a slur? Why shouldn’t it promote diversity, just like most corporations do in their annual reports?

Generally an interesting article but with these bombs of stupidity thrown in. In the past we had to face a different politics in design, corporate back stabbing, fiefdoms and the like, now we have to deal with unsubstantiated drivel.

Why Our Voice Assistants Need Ethics