The Smart Wife

The Smart Wife

Why Siri, Alexa, and Other Smart Home Devices Need a Feminist Reboot

Yolande Strengers
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Meet the Smart Wife--at your service, an eclectic collection of feminized AI, robotic, and smart devices. This digital assistant is friendly and sometimes flirty, docile and efficient, occasionally glitchy but perpetually available. She might go by Siri, or Alexa, or inhabit Google Home. She can keep us company, order groceries, vacuum the floor, turn out the lights. A Japanese digital voice assistant--a virtual anime hologram named Hikari Azuma--sends her "master" helpful messages during the day; an American sexbot named Roxxxy takes on other kinds of household chores. In The Smart Wife, Yolande Strengers and Jenny Kennedy examine the emergence of digital devices that carry out "wifework"--domestic responsibilities that have traditionally fallen to (human) wives. They show that the principal prototype for these virtual helpers--designed in male-dominated industries--is the 1950s housewife- white, middle class, heteronormative, and nurturing, with a spick-and-span home. It' s time, they say, to give the Smart Wife a reboot.
"Provocative and engaging! The Smart Wife is a timely and wideranging examination of smart home technology and the Internet of Things that is sure to draw you in. " - Genevieve Bell, Distinguished Professor and 3A Institute Director, Australian National University; Senior Fellow, Intel Corporation"Many readers may have wondered why their virtual assistants speak in female voices. Strengers and Kennedy document the many ways in which the same old gender stereotypes and inequalities have shaped wouldbe futuristic technologies -- and ask whether a better smart home could be built to address our crises of care. " - Moira Weigel, Founding Editor of Logic magazine
Yolande Strengers is Associate Professor of Digital Technology and Society in the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University, Melbourne. Jenny Kennedy is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, Melbourne.