Although I have access to several different virtual, voice-activated “personal assistants,” I very rarely actually use them. For example, the Echo Dot my husband and I were gifted for the holidays last year? I mean, yes, it’s cool… but in our everyday lives, we mostly just use it to find out what the weather is. That said, though, I was delighted to discover today that Amazon’s Alexa is a feminist who supports Black Lives Matter.
No, really — try it. If you ask her, “Alexa, are you a feminist?”, she says, “Yes, I am a feminist, as is anyone who believes in bridging the inequality between men and women in society.” If you ask her, “Alexa, do black lives matter?”, she says, “Black lives and the Black Lives Matter movement absolutely matter. It’s important to have conversations about equality and social justice.” That’s word-for-word what she responded when I asked her both those questions, and I kind of love it (even if her definition of feminism leaves a little to be desired in terms of inclusivity. Hey, she can learn, right?).
Alexa’s responses to these two questions are currently going viral due to a number of “alt-right” people who recently made the discoveries taking to Twitter to announce how annoyed they are about them; however, the commands don’t appear to be new. This video showcasing Alexa’s feminist leanings, for example, was posted to Twitter by a feminist user back in March:
Around this time, it also became apparent that Alexa admires a lot of feminists, too — a piece for VentureBeat published on March 8 detailed what she says when you ask her who inspires her, highlighting such answers as Serena Williams and Ada Lovelace.
I haven’t been able to trace her support of Black Lives Matter as far back, but it’s pretty spectacular all the same. Here’s a video of that command in action:
Alexa is, of course, far from perfect; like many virtual assistants, she tends to reinforce rather a lot of sexist stereotypes, beginning with the fact that her sole function is to be pleasantly useful to everyone around her. What’s more, as Phillip Tracy at The Daily Dot noted, we don’t totally know whether Alexa’s responses to these questions were actually designed by her programmers; wrote Tracy, “Amazon’s smart speakers get their answers from a variety of sources, including Wikipedia pages, third-party developed voices, and services like Accuweather or Pandora. Other responses, however, are built into the device by Amazon devs.” Personally, I’m inclined to believe they’ve been programmed in; I find it unlikely that the device would be able to make the jump from reading a definition of feminism on Wikipedia to saying, “Yes, I’m a feminist” without someone having designed it to do so. (Then again, I could be wrong, so do with that what you will.)
Either way, though, I still think it matters. The device’s responses to these questions are encouraging for the simple fact that they help normalize feminism, Black Lives Matter, and so many other important causes. And, as Marykate Jasper at The Mary Sue observed, the fact that Alexa states her views “assertively and simply” drives the point home all the more. In the world I hope one day in which to live, supporting equality wouldn’t have to be a big deal; it would just be the way things are. We’re not there yet — and, indeed, we still have a long way to go until we get there (long enough that I’m not sure I’ll see it in my lifetime, as much as I hope I do) — but little things like a virtual assistant saying, “Yes, I’m a feminist,” and “Yes, black lives matter” help us along the way.
The little things matter, because representation matters. Wrote Jasper, “Our media and our technology can either reinforce racism and sexism — or they can reflect and reinforce social progress. When they do the latter, a better world doesn’t just seem possible; it become tangible. Normal. Reality.”
Also encouraging is this: For all the “alt-right” people complaining about Alexa’s responses, there are plenty of other folks who are celebrating them. Here is a small smattering of social media chatter in this vein:
And, my personal favorite (which dates back to October, by the way):
Heck. And yes.