Neither male nor female. Gender barriers are there to be broken and even more so in these times. With this idea, Q was born, the first asexual digital voice assistant that identifies as gender neutral. Created to end gender bias and discrimination in technology, Q was presented at South by Southwest (SXSW), a festival held in Austin, Texas, about the impact of technology on society.
While several countries in the world have begun to recognize a third gender that will be reflected in the identity documents and passports of people identifying as a non-binary gender, some in the technological community also want to move closer to this idea of integration and away from traditional gender roles.
Q’s voice is neither female nor male. “The first voice without gender” – so called by its creators – has been developed by the agency VIRTUE, Copenhagen Pride and the organization Equal AI, among others, to differentiate itself from the current digital assistants and to open up a new possibility in the market.
“We aim to get the attention of leading technological companies that work with AI to ensure they are aware that a gender binary normativity excludes many people and to inspire them by showing how easy it would actually be to recognize that more than two genders exist when developing artificial intelligence devices. This is about giving people choices and options,” Thomas Rasmussen, head of communication for Copenhagen Pride, said in a statement announcing Q.
Alexa from Amazon, Siri from Apple, Google Assistant or Cortana from Windows, the latter practically extinct, dominate the current market of digital voice assistants. It is true that in some you can choose the gender and even decide between several types of voices, but most come with the female voice by default. And this is something that many people don’t like (that’s another story), although the people behind it always talk about the need to look for a familiar voice so that users feel more comfortable. Q could fill this gap for people who do not identify with either of the two stipulated genders.
Will this become more common in technology? At the moment it is only a project and, also at the moment, there is no artificial intelligence behind this neutral voice. Come on, it’s talking but it can’t understand what you’re saying. We will see if it becomes a reality and one day we can choose that our assistant is asexual.
This is what a non-gendered voice assistant sounds like: between 145 and 175 Hz, as they say on the Q website, where you can hear the resulting voice after having had several people who identify as non-binary genders to record their voices. Then a large team of linguists and sound designers did the rest. See for yourself in the following video:
What do you think of Q? Do you think it is necessary to break down gender barriers in digital assistants?