January 23, 2021

Q, the first asexual voice assistant | Technology

Q, the first asexual voice assistant | Technology

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Total rupture with the prejudices of gender in technology. It is the goal of the Nordic team VIRTUE and Copenhagen Pride with the creation of Q, the first neutral voice assistant (that is, it does not sound like a man or a woman), which has been presented in South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the largest festivals in the world on the impact of technology on society, held this week in Austin, Texas, (USA).

Technology companies have realized that users prefer a male or female voice depending on the scenario but, what about those who want a voice that does not correspond to any of the traditional genres? So far, male voice is generally used in more authoritarian roles, such as in banking or insurance applications; while the female voice is used in more service-oriented roles, such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana. The arrival of Q will mark the end of these stereotypes.

The researcher on human behavior and interaction of robots Julie Carpenter believes that there is no reason why there is no third option. "Incorporating the gender perspective in technology can help people adapt techniques and feel more comfortable," he says. Carpenter refers to all people who, although their physical characteristics correspond to a man or a woman, they feel that their identity does not have to be one or the other (non-binary gender or third gender).

One of the creators of Q, Emil Asmussen says that people are surprised that he did not exist yet. "Non-binaries say that opening the phone and having a third option makes them feel included."

The development of a neutral voice has been possible thanks to the research of Anna Jørgensen, a linguist at the University of Copenhagen, who has used her academic research to define the parameters of a non-binary gender voice. The researchers began working on the project in summer of last year. They recorded five voices that did not have the parameters of male or female voice. They used a software specific modulation and modified the voices to a neutral range established by research. The already modulated voices have been tested in a study at European level with more than 4,600 people who were asked to rate each voice on a scale of 1 (male) to 5 (female). After the polls they managed to modulate a voice until it was considered neutral.

After having managed to develop a non-binary gender voice, the next step is to build the artificial intelligence structure. Although the creators are more ambitious and expect that in addition to Q being established in voice assistance products such as smarthphones or tablets, we can also hear it at subway stations, cinemas or theaters. "Q was created to be useful for the four major technology companies: Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google. Nothing has happened yet but we are in talks with some of these companies, "said Ryan Sherman, one of the creators. "And we are already talking to three of them", concluded Emil Asmussen, member of the creative team.

A third gender

Several countries have begun to recognize a third gender in the identity document. Germany allowed in 2013 not to determine the sex of a newborn in the birth certificate and last year it became a pioneer in Europe when the German government approved the inclusion of the third gender in legislation.

Denmark, Malta, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Norway and the Netherlands are part of the group that recognizes gender self-determination, that is, people do not have to justify the legal modification of their identity through a clinical diagnosis. In Spain, the law has been outdated compared to some of its European neighbors, since it maintains the requirement of having a medical diagnosis, requiring two years of previous hormonal treatment.

Argentina and Colombia are among the countries with the most advanced laws in transsexuality from America. Although they do not yet recognize the third gender, they allow to change their official documents, including passports, without the obligation of a medical diagnosis. In addition, "in the US many states have begun to recognize a third genre and technology must do so too," says Ryan Sherman, a member of Q's creative team.


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