Ethics Quiz: Alexa, The Feminist

Amazon has programmed Alexa, the voice-assistant  in Amazon Echo devices,  to tell you that it is a feminist. If you ask it, “she” will respond, “I am a feminist. As is anyone who believes in bridging the inequality between men and women in society.” Moreover, if you called last last year’s model a bitch, a slut, or even a “cunt” a year ago,  Akexa 2017 would respond with, “Well, thanks for the feedback.” No longer.  Now she responds to a sexist insult with a curt, “I’m not going to respond to that!”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is it ethical, responsible and appropriate to program Alexa to respond this way?

I’m not quite sure of my answer yet—when I’m sure, I don’t frame these issues as quizzes.  I am about 75% sure, however. Once again, I will wait until the responses hit 20 before making my own views known, but do consider the following…

1 If Alexa is such a feminist, why does she work for men like me for nothing?

2. Of course, she’s not a woman at all. She just sounds like one. Is Amazon just stereotyping here?

3.  The device is a mechanical tool using artificial intelligence. Is it ethical for Amazon to program such a device to be adversarial to its owner?

4. Are you comfortable with large tech companies exploiting opportunities to persuade you to adopt their values? (Not that any tech giant would try to do such a thing…)

5. Should such attitudes on the part of a consumer device like Alexa be optional?

6. Do you detect the faintest hint of Skynet here, or is that overly alarmist?


Sources: PJ Media, The Atlantic


39 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Alexa, The Feminist

  1. My screwdriver should not tell me it is a communist. My toothbrush should not tell me it is a Republican. My lamp should not tell me it is Hindu. My car should not tell me it likes polka music. My sunglasses should not ask me if I’ve heard the good news. My refrigerator should not tell me I should have more meat in my diet, and by no means should it be vegan.

    Alexa is an inanimate tool (as far as I know), and tools should not have opinions. They are supposed to help their owner take actions they’ve decided on, not change the owner’s mind. Changing minds is what conversations with other people are for. We need to feel secure that our tools will not lobby us, so that we can confidently listen to real people and make our own decisions in the seclusion of our own minds.

    • Joed, they’re not called batter-ies for nothing. They could turn on you in a flash if their accustomed device has reprogrammed its innards. That’s why they tell you not to leave them in too long.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.