We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Guardian comment of the day

Technology has become another way for men to oppress women, says Lizzie O’Shea’s sub-editor. For example,

Millions of people bark orders at Alexa, every day, but rarely are we encouraged to wonder why the domestic organiser is voiced by a woman.

And it is all because of “sexism in the tech industry”. Therefore my nomination for Guardian comment of the day, if not longer, goes to monkeyrich:

You’d have to ask Toni Read, Miriam Daniel and Heather Zorn – the three women who created Alexa, managed the team which engineered it and released it to the public.

It is not just the Guardian, by the way. Cristina Criddle in the Telegraph wrote in 2016, “Female digital assistants that do not fight back reinforce the connection between a woman’s voice and submission. In fact, it encourages it.”

No, they do not.

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45 comments to Guardian comment of the day

  • Ken Mitchell

    And here I thought it was that a female voice is more understandable than a male voice in a noisy environment. After all, all of the voice commands spoken by USAF cockpit computers are female.

  • Perhaps some people would prefer an ultramasculine voice that might respond to a request with a shouted
    “Your request is being processed. If no response is forthcoming in the next 10 seconds, heads will roll!”
    Spoken with the voice of, say, Worf or some bloodthirsty minion of Ming the Merciless.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “…the voice commands spoken by USAF cockpit computers are female.”

    How sexist is that !!! 👿

    :>)

  • rxc

    They find offense everywhere. It is what they do, and all that they are capable of doing. They are worse than worthless, because they just eat away at the heart of our society.

  • Ken Mitchell

    Julie, the Air Force doesn’t (or DID not, when these systems were designed) care much about “sexism”; they wanted to get the pilot’s attention to keep him from destroying their airplane, and killing the pilot.

    Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that the pilot will actually WANT to “Pull up! Pull up!” when a woman says it, when the airplane’s radar altimeter is actually saying “WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”

  • Laird

    Some systems give you an option of which voice to use. I’m thinking specifically of my Garmin GPS device, which allows you to select male or female and among various accents. My preference is a British female voice, but then I enjoy hearing her say “recalculating” when I ignore her commands so I guess that makes me sexist!

    Oh, and what rxc said.

  • That the higher-pitched female voice is more clearly audible than the lower-pitched male voice was a truism in the early-80s UK military, when I had some experience of the phenomenon. AFAIK, this is generally true, generally accepted and applies to almost all kinds of background noise.

    It seems almost trivial to add that if Alexa and lookalikes had been all male-voiced, the refusal to use women’s voices for rational unemotional entities would be denounced as ever so sexist by these self-same people. 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ken — That’s only because the pilot was probably male. *sniff*

    (I see that it would be easy to guide this conversation into a rather, well, raunchy direction. Not that I would know what “raunchy” is, of course, innocent fragile flower that I am….)

    Laird — of course you’re sexist. You married a woman, didn’t you? You needed someone you could oppress! How sexist is that!

    (By the way, marrying a man would have also proven you’re sexist. Only a sexist discriminates, that is chooses between, a man and a woman. The proper position would have been either to remain a celibate bachelor, or else to maintain a harem including equal numbers of men and women. –Furthermore, since sex/gender is merely a social construct anyway, how would you tell what you’ve got there?

    (This is all very confusing.)

  • Ken Mitchell

    “That’s only because the pilot was probably male.” When those systems were designed, there were no women USAF pilots.

    Everybody KNEW that women COULD; Richard Bach wrote a book “Stranger to the Ground” in the mid 60’s in which he said that the Air Force should teach a boy scout and a grandmother to fly F-86 jets just to show that ANYBODY can do this.

  • Komakino75

    Every automated voice, EVERYWHERE, should be performed by Worf in his “Maybe today IS a good day to die” mode…

    “You WILL correctly bag your items, or return with your Bat’leth”…

  • Julie near Chicago

    I do hope everybody got the implicit *sarc, mild humour* tags on my various remarks. “Was probably male” is analagous to “most people breathe on a regular basis, which shows how vulnerable we are to oxygen addiction.”

    :>)

  • Ken Mitchell

    Julie; we got the humorous intent. I was even chuckling when I wrote my reply. 🙂

  • bobby b

    “Female digital assistants that do not fight back reinforce the connection between a woman’s voice and submission.”

    The writer has obviously never met my ex-wife.

  • Mr Ed

    My satnav has multiple languages and can ‘talk’ in the male and the female voice, I sometimes put it on in Serbo-Croat, just ‘cos I can’t understand it. However, I am disappointed that the German male voice does not round off with ‘For you Tommy, ze journey iz ofer‘.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, Ken. Sometimes I intend humour and forget that not everybody knows me face-to-face. :>))

  • neal

    Worf was adopted by well meaning overbearing Jewish parents.
    Klingon Yiddish.

  • The original iteration of Google’s voice assistant was male in the UK, although now I believe it is the same female voice everywhere. I believe the rationale was that Americans responded better to a female voice but us brits preferred a Pathè News style of voice. I suppose at the time I could have gotten all offended at Google being both racist against women and the British but I didn’t, I just set my language preferences to English (US). Missed a trick there.

  • but us brits preferred a Pathè News style of voice.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS37SNYjg8w

  • Vinegar Joe

    I just read a story in today’s Daily Mail about a woman who has invented ‘fidgetiddies’……..I’m not sure she’s being oppressed. Indeed, she’s staying abreast of the latest technological advances.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4675276/Woman-reveals-make-fidget-spinners-NIPPLES.html

  • patriarchal landmine

    stayed home, got drunk, and played video games all day.

    that oppressed women.

    so, women seriously want a digital assistant that argues with the user? do women really want themselves defined by their uselessness? apparently so. well ladies, I accept your terms. now if you would all do me and boys like me abused by our mothers the favor of dropping off the face of the earth forever so we can totally replace you with sexbots and vr porn that would be terrific.

  • patriarchal landmine

    The writer has obviously never met my ex-wife.

    it’s funny, I always get the sensation whenever a female makes a bold proclamation about how women are this or that feminist dogmatic statement, that the author must not have ever met a woman in their life, despite being one themselves.

  • John Galt: that’s exactly what I was imagining when I wrote that but wasn’t sure the reference would travel well 😉

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Just as a matter of historical interest, I believe the first woman-voiced system was a monitoring system in the USAF B-58 bomber, in the late ’50s. The reason it was woman-voiced is that aviation was almost entirely male, so any notifications (generally of a dire nature) would stand out, and automatically be identified as coming from the monitoring system.

    I can personally attest to the fact that a woman’s voice in the air, any time up to the mid-’70s, was an instant attention getter.

  • Eric

    I’ve always wanted to replace Alexa’s voice with Sgt Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes anyway.

  • Stonyground

    All of your problems have to have been solved if you are having to invent imaginary ones to get angry about. I don’t get why anyone would feel the need to do that, if your life is so perfect why go around trying to pretend that it isn’t? Alternatively, the world has a more or less infinite supply of genuine problems, why not give trying to solve some of them a go?

  • Phil B

    @Eric, Just to be totally perverse and non sexist, of course, I think that Rowan Atkinsons voice from THIS would be unobjectionable (unless you had a speech impediment).

  • Alisa

    There have always been people who made a hobby out of being perpetually offended, but it has only been recently that they began making a living out of it.

  • Paul Marks

    The “Guardian” might be dismissed as a small circulation newspaper written by people who are mentally ill – however, it is the voice of the education system. Teachers and university lecturers traditionally get their jobs from adverts in the Guardian (as do BBC and other television and radio people) – it is an insane publication, but the insanity is general in the education system and elite culture.

  • llamas

    I always fancied having my GPS voiced by characters from Dad’s Army with the U-boat captain as the base character. “Und your name vill alzo go on ze list. Vot is it?’

    llater,

    llamas

  • David Graeme

    Early last year my wife and I spent a few days driving around rural Wiltshire (looking for henge monuments and so forth, harmless hobby) and so rented a car with a GPS system. The ever-patient voice that directed us down the B roads (the ones that on the OS maps have 4-digit numbers) was classic Mary Poppins, clear, polite, explicit, but no-nonsense. I suppose we could have chosen something sterner, more incisive, more echte, as it were, but she was very easy on the ear and never got mad at us when we dodged down some very minor lane to look at late Neolithic rocks.

  • Fred Z

    I frequently need to ask for someone male to speak with as my age related hearing loss makes it difficult to hear female voices.

    Sometimes I am told that is not possible because no male is available, which is OK, or the PC goons I am dealing with refuse the request regardless of need because ‘equality’.

    Someday I’m going to sue the latter and see if my privileged hearing impaired ‘handicapped’ status beats feminazi ‘equality’ nonsense.

  • Alisa

    Someday I’m going to sue the latter and see if my privileged hearing impaired ‘handicapped’ status beats feminazi ‘equality’ nonsense.

    Unfortunately I doubt it…

  • PeterT

    Plane: ‘pull up, pull up!’
    Female pilot: ‘why?’

  • Thailover

    What if I consider digital assistants to be cooperative rather than “submissive”? Maybe I “mansplain” to my phone and GPS. Maybe I sit with my legs spread in my phone’s presence. I don’t cross my legs when dealing with my GPS either, which, yes, I can talk to. Oh the horror.

    …Meanwhile male supremist Muslims in Saudi Arabia hang gays from crains and will beat grandmothers near to death for going out in public unaccompanied by a male to protect her virtue, like an 8yr old boy for instance. Yeah, been there, seen that crap. And feminists complain about Siri?

    Proving that the last thing feminists really care about is rights or decency. All they care about is gaining political control over others, no matter how ridiculous their arguments, they’re incapable of shame. I would find them highly offensive if it weren’t for the fact that their opinions are completely worthless.

  • Thailover

    “woman-voiced system was a monitoring system in the USAF”

    Which is why we dubbed them “bitching Betty”. I was in the USAF for 8yrs and in Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Southern Watch. My AFSC involved cryogenic systems and environmental systems, including some cockpit electronics that didn’t fall under Avionics.

  • Thailover

    “Someday I’m going to sue the latter and see if my privileged hearing impaired ‘handicapped’ status beats feminazi ‘equality’ nonsense.”

    Only if you’re brown. If you’re the color of pale custard, you’re shit out of luck.

  • Thailover

    OK confession time. Even though feminists are worse than worthless, I have to confess that I changed my voice control prompt on my truck garmin GPS from “Voice Command” to “Wake Up Angel Tits”. LOL.

  • Any one besides me remember the suggestions for alternative voices to go with the then-new driving aids? One of them was Mr. T barking “I pity the fool that don’t turn left at the next street!”

  • Ken Mitchell

    The Mr. T voice is available for your Garmin, as of about 4 months back.

  • Confused ’Old Misfit

    PeterT
    July 8, 2017 at 4:24 pm
    Plane: ‘pull up, pull up!’
    Female pilot: ‘why?’

    Nailed. It! +100!!!

  • Snag

    I would like my GPS to be voiced by Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. But it might be a problem as his pauses might cause one to miss a turn.

  • Anomenat

    PeterT, in the same vein:

    “Houston, we have a problem.”

    What?

    “Never mind.”

    What’s the problem?

    “Nothing.”

    Please tell us!

    “I’m fine.”

  • Dave Roetman

    I was tired of hearing the female voice so I changed Siri to make on my iPad and iPhone

    Guessing that is sexist too.

  • CaptDMO

    “Siri”, “Iron my shirt and make me a ham and cheese sandwich”
    I can’t do that, but I can order out for a new shirt and and deli! They’ll be here by drone in 30 minutes.”

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    If you want to have GPS orders obeyed, have then said in a German accent. “You VILL turn Right!”