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Is Alexa sexist? Women claim smart speakers struggle to understand them

Mirror logo Mirror 6 days ago Sophie Curtis
© Getty

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are becoming increasingly common in UK households, with 11% of Brits claiming to own one.

These devices enable users to play music, check the news or weather, and control other smart devices in their homes using voice commands.

But new research has revealed that women often struggle to be understood by their smart speakers.

In a survey of 1,000 smart speaker owners by YouGov, two thirds of female owners (67%) said their device fails to respond to a voice command at least "sometimes", compared to 54% of men.

Amazon Alexa records all commands, users can play them back through the phone app or delete them © REX/Shutterstock Amazon Alexa records all commands, users can play them back through the phone app or delete them

By contrast, 46% of men say their device "rarely" or "never" fails to work, compared to only 32% of women.

This "sexist" behaviour comes down to how AI voice assistants are trained, according to Delip Rao , founder and CEO of R7 Speech Sciences, which focuses on AI in speech.

In order for AI assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri to understand commands, they have to be trained using a wide range of voice recordings.

If these recordings are predominantly male voices, which tend to be lower in pitch, then the voice assistants will struggle to understand higher-pitched female voices.

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This isn't a new issue. As Rao points out: "Differential error rates for male and female speakers in speech has existed for as long as speech has."

However, it is surprising that voice assistants developed by large companies such as Amazon and Google still exhibit this gender bias.

The YouGov research also found that women are noticeably nicer to their smart speakers than men, with 45% saying "please" and "thank you", compared to only 30% of male owners.

When questioned about this, 45% of female owners said that smart speakers should be afforded human levels of courtesy, compared to just a third (32%) of male owners.

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