Wake word Alexa reinforces gender bias


A new report from the UN states that calling our home assistants female names like Alexa reinforces gender bias.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/world/siri-alexa-ai-gender-bias.amp.html

I've known this for a while, and this is why when I had an Echo, I changed the wake word to Computer. I have a baby on the way and do not wish to raise her to learn that she can boss around "Alexa". Sonos needs to help us make it clear that it's a computer!

I am a software engineer, checked the docs, and know that technically it is possible to use the Amazon API to change the wake word to one of the approved words, which should include "computer".

I'm starting this thread to ask Sonos to renegotiate their license with Amazon to add "computer" to the Sonos wake words. It's 2019 and we need to do better for gender equality.

19 replies

Userlevel 7
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I have a bias against articles like this!
Here is the original press release by UNESCO, if you're not a NYT fan.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/05/1038691
Userlevel 7
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Last I noticed Alexa does what I ask less than my wife! Maybe Alexa is a good example of female personalities not being subservient to men. And aren't 50% of those Alexa is answering women. So is it wrong for her to help women too. And by the way it is a computer and most likely down the road will have male and female personas.

I find the whole premise of the article ridiculous!
I find the same thing with my husband, because he has a British accent and I have an American accent. It works better for some voices than others.

But the point is that saying "Alexa", which is a girl's name, reinforces that it's a girl playing out our orders. Alexa, do this, Alexa, do that.

I want to say computer, do this, computer do that.

I'm ok that the voice is female. But just let us use the wake word "computer" so we have freedom of choice.

Also -- that sucks that it works better for your wife than with you. Maybe it would work better with a different wake word 😃
Userlevel 7
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I assume in the near future it will be fully customizable - short term complaint.

It does wake well to the term Alexa - its the doing what I then ask that can be a bit tricky. I'm going to soon try the google version on my Sonos 1 to compare if it understands better.

This is all in its infancy - in 3-4 years time the command name will be customizable, the voice customizable, and hopefully all will understand normal speech. Voice assistants have a long way to go and I doubt "Alexa" name will continue on. At some point the econsystems will have to converge and a more standard like "computer" or new work would be even better working everywhere would be nice.

How about "Skynet" turn on coffee pot.
The real challenge is going to be the creation of gender-neutral voice responses..
Yep, the tech will evolve and hopefully we'll get voice reco accuracy rates approaching 100% too!

Lol to the Skynet reference, also one day all companies will compete to get millions of people to say their brand name multiple times a day. "Johnson and Johnson, start the laundry."

Just saw the Google Assistant announcement, thanks - will try that out!
The real challenge is going to be the creation of gender-neutral voice responses..

Check this out!
https://www.npr.org/2019/03/21/705395100/meet-q-the-gender-neutral-voice-assistant

Whether people will accept that voice into their homes is another story. What do you think about this one?
Userlevel 7
Badge +21
The real challenge is going to be the creation of gender-neutral voice responses..


https://www.npr.org/2019/03/21/705395100/meet-q-the-gender-neutral-voice-assistant?t=1559490583065
Erg, husband refusing to use Google so I'm stuck again with Alexa...

Still rooting for "computer" and reliving star trek in my home (along with the folks who have names similar to Alexa). 🙂

The real challenge is going to be the creation of gender-neutral voice responses..Check this out!
https://www.npr.org/2019/03/21/705395100/meet-q-the-gender-neutral-voice-assistant

Whether people will accept that voice into their homes is another story. What do you think about this one?

Well, what do I know...although it sounds to me more like a deeper female voice than gender neutral. But maybe that is due to preconceptions.

Can I say 'preconceptions' in a debate about gender?


The real challenge is going to be the creation of gender-neutral voice responses..Check this out!
https://www.npr.org/2019/03/21/705395100/meet-q-the-gender-neutral-voice-assistant

Whether people will accept that voice into their homes is another story. What do you think about this one?
Well, what do I know...although it sounds to me more like a deeper female voice than gender neutral. But maybe that is due to preconceptions.

Can I say 'preconceptions' in a debate about gender?


Sure can - though sorry I didn't mean to make this a debate about gender. I actually wonder if what you hear is because we are already used to having female-voiced virtual assistants, and so we've strengthened those associations en masse.

Btw, there's also a similar effect in pictures of faces.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/figures?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0046079

Check out the faces image. Depending on what people look at beforehand, lipstick or electric shaver, they'll assign a different gender to the "gender-neutral" face.
I actually wonder if what you hear is because we are already used to having female-voiced virtual assistants

That is what I meant by 'preconceptions'
Userlevel 2
Badge +2
I want a wake word, not a woke word. What a dumb article.
I’m betting Sonos would love to have “Sonos” as the wake word. I wouldn’t mind either.
I have a bias against articles like this!

Why? You like to shoot the messenger? It’s perfectly valid reporting, the sort of thing the Times does better than just about anyone.
Userlevel 7
Badge +22
I had my Alexa devices set to the "Computer" wake word for a while …. and I couldn't get over sounding rather dorky every time I used it. So I went back to "Alexa"
Userlevel 7
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I am a complete dork though - I did set my Alexa to respond to "Alexa Engage/Disable security protocols authorization Chris Alpha …" for turning on and off my home security system. My wife just gives me a strange look when I do.
Laugh. I can only imagine :)

I use "Echo", just so that the multitude of commercials that use "Alexa" don't trigger anything. I tried "Computer", but I watch enough shows that have that word in it to be almost as bad as "Alexa".

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