Showing allegiance and vocalising that allegiance to an important cause is a way for us in which to express our solidarity, and make it clear to those around us that the particular cause is of importance to us. As soon as we express ourselves vocally, we make our opinion known as well as raising awareness for the cause that we support.
The recent Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have successfully placed the issue of sexual harassment and discrimination against women under the looking glass in a renewed and bigger way than ever before. Events like the 2018 Golden Globe Awards have emphasised the enormity of the discriminatory challenges that women face on a daily basis, especially in the TV and film industry, an industry that was very much male-dominated until very recently.
Taking A Stand
The film and TV industry is obviously not the only industry that suffers from this particular rotten illness, and with more women making a stand, playing online casino games, and engaging in activities that were previously considered to be male-dominated – times are changing.
However, for the TV and film industry being as public an industry as it is, the awareness that has so prominently been addressed and place under the spotlight, has trickled into other industries as well. Most recently, tech and online retail giant Amazon has joined the feminist movement in a big way by having reprogrammed its AI-assistant, Alexa, to be less tolerant of sexist statements.
The Power Of Disengagement
The decision to re-program Alexa was made after various studies indicated that of all current AI’s, Alexa remained most tolerant of sexist statements. For example, when confronted with the statement, You’re a slut, Alexa would offer a very standard response such as Well, thanks for the feedback.
Following the new awareness created by the awareness movements and campaigns, Amazon elected to equip Alexa with the disengage feature, a feature already present in many other major AI’s. The disengage feature is activated as soon as certain trigger words associated with a sexist attitude have been identified. As soon as this happens, Alexa refuses to engage in any topic being discussed at the time. In other words, the proverbial cold shoulder is turned.
Some may smirk at the fact that something as seemingly commonplace as an AI has been reprogrammed for the cause, but when considering how many people across the world use AI’s on a daily basis, one starts to understand the significance of a move of this nature by a company the size of Amazon. It’s all about creating a whole new culture and way of thinking about equality. In order for a new mindset to develop about an idea or set of ideas, uniformity is needed. In effect, a new set of truths is being written about issues that were merely swept under the carpet for the longest time.
Heather Zorn, director of Alexa’s engagement team, has explained the reasoning behind the tweaks to Alexa’s electronic personality. According to Zorn, the decision was made due to the fact that Alexa is very obviously female. As such, having the AI respond to important social issues in an almost apathetic way, especially when feminist issues were up for discussion, was no longer good enough. The changes to Alexa’s response portfolio were an important decision when considering that her previous auto-responses only served to perpetuate the ugly stereotypes even further.
Alexa’s response tweaks may seem small but when one considers that every one change at the heart of whatever single industry ultimately adds up and collectively forms the bigger picture, one begins to understand the significance of a move such as this.
One can only hope that Amazon’s decision and subsequent action will inspire other big companies to follow suit and that sexist behaviour is eradicated!