Knocking Over All the Mics

“‘Why are so many robots designed to resemble women?’ The question is becoming inescapable as more and more AIs, which do not need to have a gender, appear on the market with female voices and female faces, including Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and a new wave of uncannily lifelike sexbots marketed almost exclusively to men. As we move into a new age of automation, the technology we’re creating says an uncomfortable amount about the way society understands both women and work.

This month, Microsoft launched Tay, a bot with the face and mannerisms of a teenage girl who was designed to learn and interact with users on Twitter. Within hours, Tay had been bombarded with sexual abuse and taught to defend Hitler, which is what happens when you give Twitter a baby to raise. The way Tay was treated by fellow Twitter users was chilling, but not without precedent – the earliest bots and digital assistants were designed to appear female, in part so that users, who were presumed to be male, could exploit them without guilt.

This makes sense when you consider that a great deal of the work that we are anticipating may one day be done by robots is currently done by women and girls, for low pay or no pay at all. Last week, a report by the ONS finally quantified the annual value of the “home production economy” – the housework, childcare and organisational chores done largely by women – at £1 trillion, almost 60 per cent of the “official” economy. From nurses, secretaries and sex workers to wives and girlfriends, the emotional labor that keeps society running is still feminized – and still stigmatized.”

 

Laurie is on. Really on.

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