When I recently wrote about my disturbingly extensive knowledge of all the dirty things people search for using their phones’ voice command functions, there was an entire side of our pervy phone habits I didn’t get into. While I gave you more examples than you may have wanted for what people search for, I didn’t even mention the flirting and worse that people (and I say people, but really it’s dudes— not all dudes, obviously, but almost exclusively men) get into with Siri and other female-voiced AI functions.
As it turns out, a lot of people just can’t help themselves from skeezing out on these virtual “personal assistants.”
When Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) launched Cortana in 2014, a good chunk of early queries were about her sex life, according to Microsoft’s Deborah Harrison… A side effect of creating friendly female personalities is that people also want to talk dirty, confess their love, role play or bombard them with insults.
And to most people, these jokes (as they’re presumably usually intended) may seem like no big deal. After all, what’s the harm in pretending like your phone is a sexy woman? It’s clearly not a sexy woman, ergo comedy, right?
The team behind Cortana, Microsoft’s assistant program, isn’t buying that line of thinking. They’re intensely aware of the connections behind how we perceive and treat a woman’s disembodied voice, and how we perceive and treat women. From Digital Trends,
While she is very clearly female — she’s represented by a female avatar, and the flesh-and-blood human woman Jen Taylor supplies her actual voice — Cortana doesn’t succumb to many stereotypical female pitfalls. She doesn’t find herself constantly apologizing, nor does she seem particularly, well, subordinate. And according to Harrison, that’s all a conscious decision made by the Microsoft team.
“We wanted to be very careful that she didn’t feel subservient in any way … or that we would set up a dynamic we didn’t want to perpetuate socially,” she told CNN.
So if you ask Cortana a question she doesn’t want to answer, she’s going to let you know.
“If you say things that are particularly a**holeish to Cortana, she will get mad,” said Harrison during a talk at the Re•Work Virtual Assistant Summit in San Francisco. “That’s not the kind of interaction we want to encourage.”
Cortana makes it very clear that she is not a human, and she is not to be sexualized.
She’s not there to be your fantasy.
Good on Microsoft for creating an assistant who will stand up for herself, and for giving her DGAF dry humor streets ahead of most humans’.
That tag on the end there is a pretty great indication of why we need this.
H/T Mary Sue.