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Accepted Paper:

Comfort with Control: Voice assistants and silent control in the home  
Kari Dahlgren (Monash University) Rex Martin (Monash University) Yolande Strengers (Monash University) Larissa Nicholls (Monash University) Sarah Pink (Monash University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes three women who variously reject voice assistants in their homes. It shows how their experiences illustrate an incompatibility between forms of control that are embedded into the design of digital voice assistants and 'silent control' operationalised by women in their homes.

Paper long abstract:

Digital voice assistants’, such as Siri and Alexa’s, feminine personas perpetuate gender stereotypes, not only in their portrayal of submissive, flirtatious, or incompetent ‘bitches with glitches,’ (Strengers and Kennedy 2020) but also through user interactions which can exacerbate gender imbalances in the home. This paper focuses on the reflections of three women who variously reject engaging with voice assistants in the context of a larger ethnographic study on digital and energy technologies with 72 households across VIC and NSW. While voice assistants promise to bring increased control and comfort to the home, participant experiences with voice assistants illustrate an incompatibility between forms of control that are embedded into the design and marketing of automated smart home technologies, particularly digital voice assistants, and the form of domestic control that are operationalised by women in their homes. While the ‘invisible work’ (Daniels 1987) of women’s domestic labour has long been recognised, this paper suggests a form of ‘silent control’ that is fundamental to this invisibility, and which is contrasted with the vocalisation of commands which drive voice assistants and household automation. Such reflections reveal broader relationships between gender, households, and control, as well as how these relationships are affected by the adoption of automated smart home technologies. Further, the paper suggests that anthropological understandings of power, including its subtle manifestations, can contribute to the design of more inclusive AI and smart technologies.

Panel P01d
AI and interdisciplinary Futures Anthropology
  Session 1 Thursday 9 June, 2022, -