Are All The Women On Here Bots
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Are boys better at math? Are girls better at language? Is aptitude or culture the reason that fewer women than men work as scientists and engineers? Psychologists have gathered solid evidence that when it comes to how — and how well — we think, males and females differ in very few but ificant ways.


Even if we imagine programs writing themselves in some nebulous world of cloud servers and graphical processing units GPUsthe reality is that humans are still at the helm.

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Our team thinks about this relentlessly: We work with behavioral and transactional data from retail banks, retailers, and telcos, and always bear in mind that these blips of transactions in time are people — traces of people doing their best to live a meaningful life. They also seep into the de choices we make when we imbue systems with human traits.

And is that a net positive or negative for society? And sure, it would be easy enough to pass this all off as the result of a long history of evil male robots — from Hal in A Space Odyssey to all those early Terminators — not interested in human preservation. While there are certainly chatbots and virtual assistants with male characteristics, and a handful that are gender-neutral, for the most part they remain the exception.

Apple has Siri. Amazon has Alexa. Microsoft has Cortana. Then again, maybe this is all just the result of research that suggests that in general, people have more positive and pleasant associations with female voices. But you could also just as easily point to some potential positives.

So, should chatbots be female?

In fact, to reinforce an attitude of respect, companies are now rewarding better social etiquette by having their voice assistants provide equally polite responses. All of this brings up broader questions. For instance, how do we currently imagine AI both as an interface and as a psychological extension of ourselves? Should we adopt the viewpoints of Andy Clark and think about technology as extending our minds? How much of a role do we want the broader culture to play in these decisions?

We know that word embeddings, the first step in almost every natural language processing model these days, reflect deep-seated cultural gender biases, and that it takes careful and creative engineering to reinstate proper neutrality. We also know that in the context of the older technology of the book, the voices of women characters in literature became increasingly scarce over the course of most of the twentieth century.

Both Apple and Google now allow you to select the gender of the their virtual assistant voices, so that these decisions feel more interactive, more under the control of users. For companies, transparency and responsibility will always play big and necessary roles in these contexts.

Are girls smarter than boys?

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Sylvie Borau does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


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