#BigWin: We have got our first feminist bot in Amazon's Alexa

Amazon's Alexa is a feminist. She's also a supporter of diversity and social progressiveness within science and technology

Amazon’s intelligent personal digital assistant Alexa is there is satisfy all your whims. Even when Alexa can’t help you, she responds with something as courteous as “Sorry, I can’t help you with that”. To sexual comments like — ‘You’re pretty’, the assistant would respond to something such as “That’s nice of you to say”.

While for such statements it’s impossible for the AI-based virtual assistant to determine the context, she would respond in a similar subtle manner for derogatory statements as well. To a comment like ‘You’re a bitch’, Alexa responds — “Well, thanks for the feedback”, Quartz reported.

But things have changed now and there are some statements that ‘new Alexa’ won’t respond to anymore. Use a derogatory term and her response would be — “I’m not going to respond to that”. This lack of responsiveness, which comes as a part of Alexa’s ‘disengagement mode’, is deliberate and a part of the company’s policy in avoiding stereotyping women as submissive by not responding to certain insults.

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After the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo campaign, tech giants Amazon and Apple found themselves in the spotlight for having their virtual assistants Alexa and Siri give coy responses to sexually harassing statements. The campaigners even launched a petition on a social networking site Care2, asking Amazon and Apple to reprogram their bots to push back against sexual harassment. Little did they know that Amazon made the change long before the scandal came to light.

“If you ask Alexa whether she’s a feminist, she will say yes as is anyone who believes in bridging the inequality between men and women in society. She’s also a supporter of diversity and social progressiveness within science and technology,” director of Amazon’s Alexa engagement team Heather Zorn told Refinery29.

Zorn pointed out that while Alexa is a feminist, she is focused on the issue to the extent to which her personality team, that is responsible for crafting her conversations, thinks is appropriate to a wide reach of people with different political persuasions. “Alexa is, after all, a commercial product that is intended to appeal to everyone, and determining her opinions on certain issues is easier done than others,” she added.

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Alexa’s personality team knows that they can’t please everyone; their general guideline is — ‘Alexa doesn’t upset her customers’. This means that while Alexa might be feminist, she wouldn’t want to upset her customers who don’t support the ideology.