Virtual assistants are increasingly present in people’s routine, whether to help, answer questions and facilitate daily life. What they all have in common are women’s names and the standard female voice, such as Lu, Siri, Alexa, Nat, Bia, etc.
According to a study entitled “I’d Blush If I Could” published by UNESCO in May 2019, virtual assistants via Artificial Intelligence suffer from high levels of gender prejudice, although they usually answer with tolerant, subservient and passive phrases.
Based on this context, the “Hey Update My Voice” movement was launched in partnership with UNESCO with the objective of drawing attention to cyber education and respect for virtual assistants, and ask companies to update their assistants’ responses. If even virtual assistants are harassed, can you imagine how many women are victims of this kind of violence?
Every day, virtual assistants worldwide are being abused in different ways. In Brazil, for instance a virtual assistant called Lu from Lojas Magazine Luiza (one of the largest department store company in the country), has already been a victim of this type of violence on the social media channels. Internationally, there are records against Siri, Alexa and others. The number is alarming when the subject is brought to women:
• 73% of women worldwide have suffered online harassment
• 15 million youth aged 15-19 have already been sexually abused
• 70% of refugee women are victims of lifelong violence
• 97% of Brazilian women say they have been harassed at public and private transport
• 43% of European women have suffered bullying or physical violence from their partners
• 1 in 5 young people are sexually abused on university campuses in the United States
Currently, the general public cans serve as an important tool for this movement. At https://heyupdatemyvoice.org you can find the field “your voice”. There, you can record voice messages of up to 15 seconds with suggested answers for cyberbullying of virtual assistants. The goal is to invite the companies to engage in the movement, so they could receive the messages and then change the answers given by the virtual assistants based on these recommendations.
In addition, the website includes detailed information about the movement, news from the national and international press highlighting the themes of cyber harassment and gender bias, and a video presentation on the issue.
Situations exposed by Artificial Intelligence are not just a technological matter. They also concern humanity in raising scientific, political, philosophical, and ethical questions. The movement raises the debate to responsibly face this issue .
Besides, according to UNESCO, most of the virtual assistant programmers are men (representing 90% of the AI creation workforce), who programme them to be subservient even when they suffer verbal harassement.
“Hey Update My Voice” aims at contributing to virtual education of present and future generations. It is open to have everyone’s participation –from Women’s Rights Institutions to companies using virtual assistants –, even those who just want to join the discussion about this theme.
“UNESCO has conducted a series of events and studies on gender equality, with the aim of promoting debates with various stakeholders involving academics, representatives of intergovernmental and private sector organizations, the media, and civil society. We need to contribute to the development of ethical principles to manage Artificial Intelligence with transparency and accountability,” says Marlova Jovchelovitch Noleto, Director and Representative of UNESCO Brasilia Office, Brazil.
The partnership between UNESCO and the “Hey Update My Voice” movement Indicates the need for data harvesting. Thus, it comes with the proposal to integrate a network of specialists, public policy makers, and companies operating in Brazil that can contribute to strengthening governance, norms and principles, especially regarding the active way of engaging society in Artificial Intelligence governance processes.