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-   -   Petition asks Siri and Alexa to flip the script on sexual harassment (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=96276)

E. Q. Taft 08 December 2017 11:31 PM

Petition asks Siri and Alexa to flip the script on sexual harassment
 
We’ve recently seen the massive impact of #MeToo, and the public takedown of numerous prominent sexual predators is fueling a positive change in how society views sexual misconduct. Victims and advocates alike feel a unique sense of empowerment to take a stand against the social norm of looking the away or shifting blame when sexual assault or harassment occurs. This moment in time is exciting, but are major tech companies missing the boat?

A new petition from Care2.com is calling on Apple and Amazon to shut down sexual harassment of their virtual assistants. Though the issue spans across all digital assistants, the petition focuses particularly on reprogramming Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri to provide more assertive responses to queries that could be considered sexual harassment.

https://venturebeat.com/2017/12/08/p...al-harassment/

E. Q. Taft 08 December 2017 11:38 PM

I can only imagine the responses of a large segment of the internet to this. Talk about your political correctness gone mad! We have to be nice to inanimate objects, now...?

I myself can actually see the point of more assertive responses, if not carried to extremes. (Having the device shut down or publicly shame you would be going too far, I think.)

On the other hand, I'm enough of a free speech advocate that I think consumers ought to have some choice in the matter. If you impressionable kids in the house, that's one thing - but if, as an adult, I want a more ribald digital assistant, shouldn't I be able to have one?

On the other hand, the idea of a setting where you set the level of "harassment tolerance" or some such seems likely to cause an even more of an uproar...

We live in a strange, strange time.

Seaboe Muffinchucker 11 December 2017 02:28 PM

E.Q., there's the question of why both these digital assistants are "female" at all. Why is that the default?

Seaboe

GenYus234 11 December 2017 03:01 PM

Tradition I'd guess. Most computerized voices are female so that's what people get used to. A CNN article says that part of it may be because telephone operators were primarily female, so people have long been getting information electronically from a female voice. There is also the perception (pretty much discredited IMS) that people will pay more attention to a female voice. And I'm sure part of it is the assumption (consciously or subconsciously) that Siri is an electronic secretary and secretaries are female.

Lainie 11 December 2017 03:03 PM

Or because people subconsciously think it's natural for women to take orders (especially from men) and assigned to handle menial chores that other people (especially men) don't want to be bothered with.

Richard W 11 December 2017 04:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by E. Q. Taft (Post 1966265)
I can only imagine the responses of a large segment of the internet to this. Talk about your political correctness gone mad! We have to be nice to inanimate objects, now...?

That "certain segment of the internet" would include me, frankly. "Siri" isn't a woman - it's a piece of software that, although I don't use it, would probably frustrate me no end if I did (given how often I get frustrated by stupid minor issues with my smart-phone as it is).

Shouting at inanimate objects isn't the same thing as shouting at women, and I think it's dangerous to conflate the two. Even the worst misogynist can probably tell the difference between his phone and a woman.

(eta) I'm ignoring the hard-AI issue of whether Siri actually has conscious feelings and rights and so on, because I assume that we all still agree that it doesn't, at this point. I've never really seen the point of developing AI - at least, as a tool rather than an experiment - to that point anyway; it would be solving a problem that doesn't need to be solved, in order to eliminate half the utility of the tool! If it does happen, it will probably happen as an accidental side-effect of the complexity...

erwins 11 December 2017 05:35 PM

I sort of expected to find the petition silly, but I found after reading the article that I agree with it.

There is no question in my mind that, even if Siri and other such assistants are not capable of being the victims of harassment, their responses are not just a reflection of our culture, but also part of it, and reinforcing of it.

It is most evident when you look at how it plays out with children, but I think it is quite important when only adults are present as well. I recently heard a piece on the radio about how parents teaching kids how to interact politely with others need to model polite requests to their digital devices. The youngest kids don't know that Siri and Alexa are not real people, and even older kids can get the wrong message about how to treat people who serve us, and what is acceptable, if we speak differently to those assistants.

But even looking at adult only interactions, if the default personification treats harassing-type comments as funny, or behaves coyly, or as if such remarks are flattering, that is part of the culture that treats such remarks as no big deal, reinforces the idea that women should be flattered, that men are just trying to be nice, or are innocently signaling interest. Is harassing women sometimes funny? Both Al Franken and some digital assistant programmers clearly have thought so. And yes, that is a problem.

E.Q. Taft, I certainly don't think that it should be illegal to have a different digital assistant if you choose to download one. But I do ultimately agree that the default programming of the default personification should respond in the way that we would be pleased to see an assertive professional respond to the same remark. The makers of these devices make choices that can have very far reaching effects.

Anyone else remember the stories about how Siri responded to requests for sex or prostitution (links to local escort services, IIRC) vs requests for information about where to get an abortion? (Little if any helpful information usually, and often anti-abortion oriented results.)

Richard W 11 December 2017 06:26 PM

Yes, the actual suggestions aren't as stupid as the summary implies. I still think that at least part of the issue is why people are being trained to treat their phones as though they're women, though.

Crius of CoH 11 December 2017 06:27 PM

As my mother told my sister and I as children, one way to measure the character of a person is to see how they treat their "inferiors" - that is, people like secretaries and waitstaff (said advice given in relation to making friends, dating and so on). In that vein, people who treat an interactive pseudo-AI device poorly may (or may not) have character flaws ranging from minor to major. It could be a potential window into a person's psyche.

One wonders if "flipping the script" may remove a safety valve for some people, though, the way it has been suggested that violent video games may have helped reduce the incidence of violent crime. Joe Schmoe has a minor and carefully submerged bit of misogyny which he vents by treating Alexa with verbal contempt; he loses this outlet and soon afterwards isn't such a nice guy at work any more....

Richard W 11 December 2017 06:34 PM

So if I say "stupid bloody phone!" when it won't hang up (as I'm fairly sure I did when I was having that problem last week) then it could show flaws in my personality? I'm well aware that my phone isn't human, and I don't treat people like that.

If I used a digital assistant with a female persona and said "stupid bloody woman!" under my breath to it - which I can easily imagine doing, because I'm sure it would be at least as irritating as phones are in general - to me, the problem wouldn't be that I had sworn at the software. It would be that I'd accepted its female persona and called it a "woman". I'd find it irritating if my phone started telling me off for swearing - as I know it probably already does - and even more irritating if it implied that because I was irritated with a bit of software, I would abuse women in a similar way.

So regardless of the sense in improving the responses to remarks that would be abusive if you directed them at a person, I do think that this is surrendering half the battle in the first place. Why would you encourage people to think that your phone has the same status as a woman?

Lainie 11 December 2017 06:47 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Richard W (Post 1966446)
So if I say "stupid bloody phone!" when it won't hang up (as I'm fairly sure I did when I was having that problem last week) then it could show flaws in my personality? I'm well aware that my phone isn't human, and I don't treat people like that.

Nobody accused you of treating people like that, and the advice that Cirius referred to was about people, not inanimate objects, so I really don't think that's what Cirius was saying.

E. Q. Taft 11 December 2017 06:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker (Post 1966410)
E.Q., there's the question of why both these digital assistants are "female" at all. Why is that the default?

I have read that when they started using recorded voice alerts in the early days of jet flight, they found that a female voice tends to penetrate the noise better. That may be part of the reason the tradition originated. I would not be surprised to find that there are psychological factors involved, though. I could imagine that both men and women are to some degree likely to feel less threatened or intimidated by a female voice.

There's no fundamental reason they couldn't give you a number of different voice options -- but there's an economic one; the voice artist has to do a large number of fairly difficult recording sessions to get all the necessary components for the synthesis. I can see why at least at first manufacturers would not want to spring for multiple voices.

Quote:

Originally Posted by erwins (Post 1966437)
There is no question in my mind that, even if Siri and other such assistants are not capable of being the victims of harassment, their responses are not just a reflection of our culture, but also part of it, and reinforcing of it.

That was the aspect I found persuasive as well.

Richard W 11 December 2017 07:02 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Lainie (Post 1966448)
Nobody accused you of treating people like that, and the advice that Cirius referred to was about people, not inanimate objects, so I really don't think that's what Cirius was saying.

Yes, but Siri is an inanimate object (or inanimate piece of software), and Crius did seem to be accusing people who treated Siri like that as having a problem. I know Crius wasn't talking about me personally, but I am in the set of people who sometimes talk to inanimate objects in a way that I wouldn't talk to people, so in that sense, I was included in the people he was talking about. I find it's useful sometimes to remind people that when they talk about groups, they're also talking about the individuals within those groups, and adding "Oh, I didn't mean you..." doesn't help.

And the difference between "my phone" and "Siri" is that we're being encouraged to think of Siri as a woman, whereas my phone (since I don't use these assistants) does not have any artificially-introduced female characteristics.

Crius of CoH 11 December 2017 08:14 PM

Hey, I'm in the class of people who sometimes treat inanimate objects poorly; I'm pretty sure most people do, one time or another, one way or another. But please do carefully reread what I wrote; there were a LOT of qualifiers in it. Speculation on my part, suggestions of possibilities. Not accusing anyone of anything.

That last bit should be in the LTTAM thread, it happens to me all the time. :(

Keeper of the Mad Bunnies 12 December 2017 04:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker (Post 1966410)
E.Q., there's the question of why both these digital assistants are "female" at all. Why is that the default?

Seaboe

Here is an article published by CNN in 2011 when Siri was released about possibly why female voices are used.

Why computer voices are mostly female

Unfortunately, it does not give any direct references to the 'studies'.

Edited to add:

It does tend to support the idea that it evolved from and tends to reinforce traditional gender roles. Female voice announcements penetrated better in what were (at the time) all-male job places (doctors, pilots).

Crius of CoH 12 December 2017 07:29 PM

I... think it was in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, but I cannot definitively cite, but anyways: it is mentioned in something I read by him that female voices were more clearly understandable over intercom systems and/or during chaotic (i.e., combat) situations. Not that a piece of science fiction is a good reference, but if Heinlein has any remaining virtues in the post-modern world's hindsight, it's that he researched the hell out of stuff before putting it down on paper. So likely he had access to research that suggested the above; as it was written and published in 1958-59, such research would have to go that far back at least.

On a more personal note, I listen to all sorts of radios and other communications systems at work, most of which have been used by males since around forever. But when we got our first female dispatchers about 6-7 years ago, I will say that they have been consistently more understandable over the radios and vocal speakers than most of the men. Everyone has good and bad days, but overall, the female voice seems to me to be easier to understand. An additional datum.

Edit: Unless I was thinking of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War? Hmm. He was in the military, though, and in Viet Nam, so if this is the case, maybe he got it from that experience as well.

Lainie 12 December 2017 07:45 PM

Supposedly the computer in the ST:TOS had a female voice because "studies" had shown that people paid attention to female voices more than male. But it's possible Roddenberry just made that up because he wanted to give the job to his girlfriend/later wife.

E. Q. Taft 13 December 2017 02:49 AM

You would think, making sexist assumptions, men would pay less attention to a female voice....

Richard W 13 December 2017 10:55 AM

I can think of a couple of reasons why it might be the case that female voices would be easier to follow than male in that situation, one social and one physical.

The social one is that if it's a noisy environment and all the other voices are male, the female one would stand out. This one would stop being the case if the environment was mixed or all-female.

The physical one is that, being higher-pitched on average, the tones of a female voice might work better through a small speaker (such as a walkie-talkie or field radio) that would be better on treble than on bass. It might be picked up better by the microphone at the other end, too. I don't know enough about sound reproduction to know whether that would really have much effect, though. And it's less "female" than "higher-pitched" - it's just that we associate the high pitch with femininity.

Alarm 13 December 2017 02:17 PM

IN the iPhone settings, you can choose Siri's settings to be:

American/Australian/British

Male/Female

:p

Maybe initially she was just a female voice, but Apple has obviously considered the fact that not everyone wants a female voice.

Anecdote: I had a co-worker once whose wife was so jealous that she would question him when he interacted with female NPCs in computer games. "Why are you talking to that s**t?"


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