As voice assistants are becoming more ubiquitous in our daily lives, we start to take certain aspects of them for granted. For example, we have become accustomed to the idea that voice assistants are female-voiced by default, owing to traditionally instilled gender bias. Personal assistants and secretaries in pop culture and the real world have long been depicted as female, and many are arguing this is what has led to the proliferation of female voice assistants that we boss around without a second thought. This, they believe, could feed into our daily biases.
“AI-powered voice assistants with female voices are perpetuating harmful gender biases,” the BBC reported, referencing a recent study by the UN.
Now, some people want to challenge this notion.
To address the gender concern entirely, a new voice assistant has been created – one whose voice is more fitting of an artificial entity, bearing no insinuations of gender. Its name is equally identity-less: Q.
Q launched earlier this year, created by a wide array of technical experts from a handful of companies. Still very much a concept, the creators had hoped to create a genderless voice assistant that could be installed on devices to replace the traditional voices of Siri, Alexa and others.
Today, some companies behind the biggest voice assistants, such as Google, have addressed the sexist rhetoric that’s been directed their way, and as such have enabled male voice options on their platforms.
In fact, according to Google Assistant product manager Brant Ward, Google initially planned to launch Assistant with a male voice, Futurism notes. The problem, he told Business Insider, was that the audio produced by text-to-speech systems was easier to understand if delivered in a higher-pitched, female-sounding voice.
“At the time, the guidance was the technology performed better for a female voice,” Ward said. “The [text-to-speech] systems in the early days kind of echoed [early systems] and just became kind of more tuned to female voices.”
In the end, you can’t truly please everyone, and an identity-less voice assistant like Q might be the best solution to this whole debate. Choice of gender for your assistant is one option – Q is another choice entirely.