Alexa and Google Assistant Learn Sarcastic Retorts to Sexist Insults to Highlight Casual Sexism
Unilever’s beauty brand Lux is teaching voice assistants to push back against verbal abuse with witty put-downs in a new campaign to highlight casual sexism. The Shut up Sexism initiative has produced a slate of Alexa and Google Assistant Routines that will prompt the voice assistants to answer insult with insult, as seen in the video above.
Verbal abuse toward voice assistants, most of which use female voices, is not uncommon. Their usual response to insults is to ignore them. Sexist catcalls like, “you’re hot” might even get a thank you from the AI. A UNESCO study found that the gendered nature of voice assistant voices can reinforce stereotypes of women in negative ways. The “antisexim routines,” as Lux terms the retorts, have the voice assistant stand up for itself, a sometimes helpful tactic against bullying in the real world.
The actual comebacks mix schoolyard wordplay, direct insults, and, in one case, a wolf howl sound effect. Calling a voice assistant ugly earns “according to the dictionary, ugly begins with U,” while the harshest swear word gets, “you first.” The range even includes a response to being called hot, with “hot tip: sexist men aren’t hot.” Whatever the style and harshness of the response, it ends with a message that insulting women is sexism and it should be stopped at home, with Lux’s tagline to finish it off. To launch the campaign, Lux partnered with Egyptian actress and influencer Yasmine Sabri, who promoted the campaign to her 18.6 million Instagram followers.
“Touching upon gender stereotypes and how they originate, there are so many studies on stereotyping and it all starts from ages 5-6. Imagine the child being exposed to sexism at home through virtual assistants,” Sabri said. “It’s nice to see Lux stand up against sexism and also giving everyone the power to stop casual sexism at home by giving their virtual assistants a voice to speak up; and also trigger important conversations within the home about stopping casual sexist behavior.”