Voice assistants: you only need to speak

Every day it is more common to talk and give orders through artificial intelligence thanks to the voice assistants. The modern man, through artificial intelligence (AI), has started talking with machines in its daily life.

This practice is changing our present completely and, undoubtedly, it will be one of the tendencies that will define the way we live in the future.

Getting to know voice assistants 

Voice assistants are, as its name defines, intelligent assistants. They can be integrated in our mobile devices or in smart speakers at home or work.

Its main goal is to make our life easier. Their range of activities can go from replying a message or changing a song to creating an ambiance at home when we get from work, ordering food online or even opening the garage.

The list of functionalities that it offers today is huge and grows each day. The essential benefit of the voice assistants is that you only have to speak with the device to achieve a set of actions.

Artificial Intelligence is involved in some functions available for this devices. In this post, details about the relevance of AI on daily life and ID systems.

Voice assistant popularity

The most widely used voice assistants in the world are Alexa, from Amazon; Cortana, from Microsoft; Siri, from Apple; and Google Assistance, from the search engine giant. This last one is the only one that doesn’t have a name of its own.

According to the IPSOS Global Citizens & Automation 2018 study results, the acceptance of voice assistants vary according to geographical and ethnic parameters.   

45% of surveyed people value this product as positive while 16% think the opposite. Countries like China and India show the most favorable criteria around its use. But in Belgium and France, just 21% trust those assistants.

On the other hand, young people are the ones who show the most acceptance for this technology. Half of those younger than 35 years are in favor of the assistants. That state of opinion decreases to 43% between 25 and 49 years and lowers to just 37% in those older than 50 years.

Assistants that only have female voices

A common characteristic of all voice assistants is that they have female voices. This issue has triggered alarms around the gender gap topic and the presence of women in the technological sector, especially in the teams that create these smart assistants.

A separate mention is well deserved by Q, the first voice assistant that has no gender. It was created last year in Copenhagen, as a result of the union between Copenhagen Pride, the Equal AI organization and other entities.

Dag Kittlaus, worked in the creation of Siri. He said that the name was inspired the Nordic meaning: “beautiful victory”. But Apple hasn’t explained the origin of the assistant and there is even speculation that the late Steve Jobs did not like it.

The feminine voice of Siri is only in American English. When it is changed to British English or to French the voice is that of a man. This voice assistant is very curious. When it is asked if it is a man or a woman it answers that: “I exist beyond the human concept of gender”.

Why use female voices in voice assistants?

On May 2019, UNESCO presented the report “I’d blush if I could”. The tittle of this study refers to the answer that Siri gave when a user would say: “Hi Siri, you are a bitch”. The answer was later changed for: “I don’t know how to reply to that”.

The use of female voices in voice assistants could be explained by the approval with which the human brain accepts it. A research in 2016 of the University of Utah proved that the tone, intonation and pronunciation of a woman’s voice is more comprehensible.

“It is much easier to find a feminine voice that everyone likes than a masculine one. It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices”, referred to CNN in 2011, the Stanford University professor, Clifford Nass.   

UNESCO’s report emphasizes the idea that there is a lack of diversity. All the big companies that create voice assistants agree on changing our lives with AI. Although their products do not echo social diversity. It’s clear that currently, in the technological sector, there is a gender gap.

“Our research shows that the majority of the service-oriented programs (turn on the light, put music…) use a female voice. But when it comes to guiding or giving instructions we hear male voices.  This is not defined by the costumer’s preferences, it’s the way we reproduce a certain comprehension of the world: Women are more caretakers and men are decision makers. These behavioral perceptions and patterns are very difficult to change”.

Saniye Gülser Corat, Head of the Gender’s Equality Division at UNESCO, in interview for Retina of El País.

Have you ever used a voice assistant? Are you comfortable with them? Tell us about your experience with this technology

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Aline Marie Rodríguez

Journalist with my pen and my lens. Photography lover.

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