Our Future Personal Assistants

Who doesn't need a little help now and then? With modern life, especially if you choose to have children, some of us could use a whole lot of help. I'm talking about a natural-language-based, A.I.-driven software assistant that can help me keep track of projects, schedules, tasks, and shopping lists. 

My husband recently floated the idea of picking up an Amazon Echo or Google Home. I was skeptical about their functionality so I went searching for the best in AI personal assistants. I found this list:


Notice anything? Here are some of their names: Alexa, Amy, Siri, Cortana, Braina, Nina, Silvia, Lucida. Most of these are referred to with female pronouns or are feminine sounding labels (to English speakers).

Further down the list, we finally arrive at Aido and Jibo, referred to as male.

In between, we have a few choices for neutral, non-anthropomorphic software, though at the very top of the list is Google Now/Home.

Why must we continue to perpetuate the gendered functionality of social labor? There is no good reason to apply gender to an AI in the first place except for the human tendency to anthropomorphize. We want our assistants to be personal and personable. Fine. But why ship them with a built-in gender and/or a strongly gendered name? Considering how much NLP (Natural Language Processing) is built into these, why not present an array of names (preferably from around the world), and then let the user choose? Much like customizing your game character, you should be able to customize your assistant.

In the meantime, I'll put my money where my mouth is.

Ok, google: you win.