Feuding and Feminism: The Hidden Lives of Virtual Assistants

In our modern times, virtual assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Google assistant are ubiquitous. Beyond the basic concerns of surveillance many people have, should society also be worried about our machines reflecting the worst parts of humanity?

The British publication, The Independent, recently published an article suggesting that Google Assistant might be subtly casting shade on Apple’s Siri. It’s not surprising that the developers of one app might program their algorithms to respond to questions about their competitors in a less than flattering light. But is it really necessary to equate “rats” with “Siri?”

In “Asking More of Siri and Alexa: Feminine Persona in Service of Surveillance Capitalism,” Heather Woods explores the idea of Siri and Alexa as electronic iterations of female stereotypes. Reading about a potential feud between virtual assistants begs the question of whether this feminization of inanimate objects has gone too far. After all, feuding females is not a new stereotype as the many iterations of the Real Housewives of… television franchise can attest.

Virtual assistants, at their core, were designed to enable us to gain back time in our busy daily lives. In many ways, they have achieved this goal. Who doesn’t love being able to ask Siri to add eggs to the grocery list while simultaneously completing household chores? When used for these purposes, virtual assistants are a godsend for millions of people.

But at some point, society will need to grapple with whether or not the darker aspects of these virtual assistants are worth the convenience to our everyday lives. Do we really need Google Assistant to tell us how annoying Siri can be?

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