[ISEA2023] Paper: Pedro Costa, Luísa Ribas & Miguel Carvalhais — “I’m a virtual assistant so I don’t have pronouns the way people do, thanks for asking”: gender neutrality, diversification and fluidity in AI


Full Paper. Theme: Social Experiences Subtheme: Symbiotic Individuations

This paper questions how current digital assistants tend to be feminized through their anthropomorphization and humanization, discussing possibilities for countering this phenomenon. It draws on a previous study on the relationship between gender and AI, complemented by an analysis of Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri. Furthering this discussion, we address the main ques-tions, justifications and suggestions raised by researchers and academics as well as online media coverage when ex-amining the phenomenon. One of the main questions re-lates to how these assistants evade this topic by claiming to have no gender or to be gender neutral. Thus, this paper discusses possible approaches to deal with gender attrib-ution in AI, by looking into recent trends that range from gender neutrality and diversification to queering these entities. On the one hand, digital assistants could be more diversified and include male counterparts or alter-natives, on the other, we discuss how our understandings of gender are expanding beyond binary conceptions and how digital assistants can accompany more fluid concep-tions of gender. Particularly, this paper debates how the development of this technology could be informed by current discussions in queer theory and new media stud-ies, inciting reflection on how digital assistants reflect our social and cultural views back to us.

  • Pedro Costa is a transdisciplinary creator based in Lisbon, Portugal. Sometimes graphic design, sound design or dj mixing, they’re currently enrolled in a PhD in Fine-Arts. They hold a Master in Communication Design and New Media (2019) and a degree in Audiovisual and Multimedia (2016). Also a member of the Artistic Studies Research Center (CIEBA), their research focuses on the relationship between gender and artificial intelligence and, particularly, why current digital assistants tend to reinforce traditional gender roles and stereotypes, questioning their tendency towards feminization and exploring their queerization as a potential path to counter this phenomenon.
  • Luísa Ribas holds a PhD in Art and Design (2012), a Master in Multimedia Art (2002) and a degree in Communication Design (1996) from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto, Portugal. She is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon and her research is devoted to the study of computational systems as aesthetic artefacts, their design and experience, focusing on interactivity and audiovisuality. She is currently a member of CIEBA, Center for Research and Studies in Fine Arts and a collaborator of ID +, Research Institute for Design, Media and Culture. She has contributed to several publications on design and digital arts, as well as the organisation of international conferences such as xCoAx, a conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics and X, since 2017.
  • Miguel Carvalhais is a designer, musician, artist; associate professor (with habilitation) at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto, Portugal. Author of the books Art and Computation (2022) and Artificial Aesthetics: Creative Practices in Computational Art and Design (2016). They collaborate with Pedro Tudela on the @c project, creating installations, music and performances. They also run Crónica, a label for experimental and electronic music. They help run the xCoAx conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics and X since 2013. They have also helped to organize the Invisible Places symposium and two editions of the ICLI conference.