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(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Non-binary

Alexa, stop: Hear what the world’s 1st ‘genderless’ digital assistant sounds like

By WITW Staff on April 1, 2019

Discussion about the sexist undertones of female-voiced digital assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, have at least raised awareness of our imbalanced gender expectations. Now, a new genderless voice for A.I. systems known as ‘Q’ is aiming to add a non-binary voice to the conversation.

A collaborative project between creative studio Virtue Nordic, social scientist Julie Carpenter, and human rights festival Copenhagen Pride, Q is being billed as the first ever genderless voice to be developed for digital assistants. The nonprofit project is offering their work for free to tech giants with the hope that Q will become an alternative option to standard female and male A.I. voice options. In so doing, representatives of the project said they hope to combat traditional notions of gender that mistakenly suggest that all people are either male or female.

“Based on what we know about some other technologies that are communication mediums, we do understand that social representation — or omission of social representation in media — is important in influencing social values,” Carter wrote in an email to Fast Company, noting that most developers in the tech world are men. “There is a circle of influence between society, the people who develop the technology, and people using the technology.”

To create Q, Emil Asmussen and Ryan Sherman from Virtue Nordic began by sampling voice recordings from non-binary people and combining them digitally to create a unique voice that is neither male nor female. They tested reactions to the voice on more than 4,600 people from Denmark, the U.K., and Venezuela, and adjusted it until listeners consistently rated it as gender-neutral.

“I’m created for a future where we are no longer defined by gender, but rather how we define ourselves,” explained Q in a promotional video for the project. “Share my voice with Apple, Google, and Microsoft, and together we can ensure that technology recognizes us all.”

Interested in this topic? Hear our A.I. future discussed in depth by our panel, “A.I.: All Too Human?” at the 10th annual Women in the World Summit April 10-12. See the full agenda here, and get your tickets here.

Hear what Q sounds like at Fast Company.

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