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You would think by now that I’d be wise enough to capture the speaker as well as the slide when I take a photo; alas not; sigh.

Last week I saw Daniel Wilson speak over at Butler University. Daniel is the author of Robopocalypse, Robogenesis, How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Where’s My Jetpack and many other good bits of science fiction. There were two surprising things in his presentation:

  • He was funny. As someone who has written some pretty dark stuff, I was astonished at just how funny he was. “I asked my fellow Carnegie Mellon robotics folks what they’d to if the robots rose up and they all said the same thing - 1) Go to a staircase and go up one step and 2) wait for it to run out of batteries”. And then, with input like that, he made a damn book out of it! Respect.
  • He was surprisingly gender aware which is what I really want to talk about here.

This second point is the focus of this blog post. He is raising small children and he and his wife are teaching them to be respectful to their Alexa and / or Google Home by saying “please” and “thank you” to it. This is interesting. His basic point boils down to this:

  • Digital assistants tend to have female voices (there’s a reason for this but its irrelevant for now)
  • What does it teach his son (or daughter) if they regularly hear Dad saying “Alexa Shut the F up!”

Cursing at Alexa, for me, is a bit of a dirty pleasure. And this is particularly true when it is is an early morning alarm and I don’t want got get up. But I am now painfully aware that maybe I shouldn’t do this – what am I teaching my youngest about how to interact with female voices? Deep, Deep Sigh.

And Thank You to Daniel Wilson for such an interesting, funny talk. His writings are definitely recommended.

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Note: I don’t want to get get into the gender issues around why we use assistive voices that are female and imperative voices that are male. That is a different issue entirely. And thanks to Lisa Meece of Starbase Indy fame for pointing this out to me and illustrating it with examples, specifically of the New York City Subway system.