Harassing the Digital Assistant, Manipulating the Public


I’m with Jonah Goldberg when he writes that somebody’s testing the responses of digital home assistants for their reaction to sexual harassment is evidence “that this is a remarkably stupid time to be alive.”  There’s a more serious angle with a foreboding shadow in a paragraph that Goldberg quotes from the original Leah Fressler article in Quartz:

In order to substantiate claims about these bots’ responses to sexual harassment and the ethical implications of their pre-programmed responses, Quartz gathered comprehensive data on their programming by systematically testing how each reacts to harassment. The message is clear: Instead of fighting back against abuse, each bot helps entrench sexist tropes through their passivity.

Take this as a warning: As technology enters our lives in these personal — even intimate — ways, there will be people leveraging social pressure and government mandates to use them to manipulate you.  Even if we all agree that real abuse is bad, we can be sure that the definition will expand, and so will the manipulation.

These people are not willing to simply coexist with you.  If they can find a way into your life, they will use it to make you more like them.