The Alexas aren’t happy.
Not the Amazon virtual assistant – I don’t mean to herald the singularity here – but kids and teenagers called Alexa, as well as their parents, who last year complained to Amazon that their daughters were being bullied.
Some girls go so far as to change their name to make the barrage of jokes – people shouting their name, followed by a command – stop.
One mother said: “It’s identity erasure. The word Alexa has become synonymous with servant or slave. It gives people a licence to treat people with the name Alexa in a subservient manner.”
The story reminded me of something I’ve often wondered about: do you say “please” or “thank you” to your devices?I feel silly even asking the question. I know that Siri doesn’t care if I express my gratitude for the timer he (mine is a male voice) just set for my garlic bread.
But while Amazon’s Alexa and her ilk are indifferent (for now?) to how we treat them, the more we interact with them in a human-like way, surely the more important it is that we treat them humanely.
For our sake, rather than for theirs: history, and the way flesh-and-blood Alexas are being treated, testify to how intoxicating we humans find power to be, with what absurd ease we learn the lesson of dehumanising others.
If we stand in somewhat godlike relation to our “creation” – our tech – what kind of deity do we find ourselves becoming?
The God of the Bible is described as a shepherd, a parent, a just and merciful judge to his creatures. The (human) Alexas might accuse us of taking a more Graeco-Roman line – capricious and egoistic, and seeing what is “below” us as merely a means to an end.