Friday, July 30, 2021

Ally with Alexa Over Alex for Chatbot

In an advertisement featuring a human voice, consumers are better persuaded by a man rather than a woman, depending on the voice quality. Duke University researchers recommend the man use a creaky voice and the woman a smooth voice. The explanation is in how women are associated with smooth and men with angular.
     But when interacting with a voice-assisted artificial intelligence device, do users prefer hearing a female over a male voice? An explanation of why they might is provided by findings from the TBS Business School, University of Agder, and University Toulouse Capitole. People perceive women as more likely than men to experience emotions and consider our unique needs. Those assumptions subconsciously generalize to influence perceptions of an automated voice such that female chatbots are perceived to have more positive qualities than male chatbots.
     Because perceptions of greater warmth are associated in consumer psychology research with perceptions of less competence, we might think that there would be a tradeoff in asking Alexa to voice recommendations. However, because AI is coaching that voice, perceptions of competence can be preserved. People view artificial intelligence as knowledgeable, while rigid. It’s the emotional sensitivity and ability to customize advice which is felt by chatbot users to be augmented by the feminine touch. The researchers suggest that the gender choice would be especially influential in health care applications, where patients have resisted AI capabilities because of a desire for individualized answers.
     Although the researchers were based in France and Norway, the 3,000 participants in the studies were all from the U.S. or the UK. It’s possible that different cultures would have different perceptions of gender differences and that this would carry over to preferences for the chatbot voice gender.
     Related to this is an issue which concerned the researchers: Would using the female voice strengthen sex-role stereotypes in a culture? In the course of the studies, it became clear that along with female chatbot voices stimulating positive associations, male chatbot voices stimulated associations with negative aspects of human nature.
     Add to these concerns that people are most comfortable making requests of chatbots when they feel highly powerful. Those findings from Liverpool John Moores University, University of Vaasa, and University of Lorraine might mean that a male human regularly interacting with a female-voiced chatbot would strengthen an assumption that men are more powerful than women. Maybe it would be best for society in the long-term to let Chatbot Alex regularly have a say, too.

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