Meet Amy. And Debbie, Inga, MIA, Erica, Eva and Cora. This is not a new member female rock band, and names that several large banks have given their automated digital assistants.
So-called chat-bots have become a useful tool to reduce costs for companies with large customer bases (e.g. banks, insurance companies and mobile operators). These bots replace staff call centers and by 2023 will save the banks up to $7.3 billion, according to estimates by Juniper Research.
But the popularity of bots with female names makes you wonder, do they not reinforce gender stereotypes at the same time and especially the idea that women usually play a supporting role. Such criticism has been Amazon digital assistant named Alex and Siri from Apple.
Forbes has studied the practices of the ten largest in terms of assets of European banks and found that at least three of them are using chat-bots with female names on websites and in apps. At HSBC there is a bot named Amy, Debbie from Deutsche Bank helps traders have ING is Inga, im bot, which “will react” to the problems of clients, such as the loss of the card.
Other chat-bot’ing, Marie, are available to retail customers via messenger Facebook, received this name “because it creates the image of someone helpful and friendly” — these are the words of Tim Daniels, programme Manager at ING, published on the website of the Bank (ING has a male chat-bot named bill that is focused on corporate clients).
Among other credit institutions — Santander, Barclays and Societe Generale, which seems to be made of nameless chat-bots-assistants. At Credit Agricole there is an internal chat bot with a male name Hector.
Female chat bots are widely distributed outside Europe and outside the banking sector. Bank of America recently introduced a digital assistant named Erica, and chat bot MIA fledgling Australian digital Bank-UBank, the company describes as “understanding”, “funny” and “slightly ironic”.
From IPSoft, the company-software developer with headquarters in new York, which sells technology chat bots Swedish banks like SEB and the giant of the mobile market Vodafone has a private white label version of the client chat bot named Amelia.
IPSoft CEO Chetan Dube in conversation with Forbes disagreed with the assertion that the name of the chat bot supports stereotypes, and stated that it, by contrast, emphasizes “leadership style of thinking, represented among women.”
“She became the first female Aviator who decided to fly around the world,” added Dube, referring to Amelia Eckhart, Aviator of the 1930-ies.
Earlier this month Forbes reported that Vodafone measures the success of their chat bots by how many employees you can replace the program. Although it is uncomfortable, according to four industry experts interviewed by Forbes, where more of a concern is the risk that the chat-bots can support some stereotypes.
“Gender bias is becoming a more serious problem in the development of chat-bots, especially chat bots with voice support, says John Taylor, CEO of action.ai, a UK startup which is developing a chat-bot program for banks and travel companies. — These helpers often do work that many consider to be low-skilled”.
Vitor Serber, a linguist working on an app for learning the German language Babbel, says that testing on focus groups could push the company to attribute the chat bot’s gender, based on the idea that the way the client feels safer. But, he adds, bots can propagate unrealistic ideas about how women should look in a professional environment, just as retouched photos impacted the perception of women’s body.
Another difficulty for companies is finding a balance between automation client support and a desire to retain customers. Recently, PwC has described the chat-bots as an opportunity “to significantly increase customer satisfaction and customer loyalty” due to “personal approach”.
Taylor offers the software developers to try to create more chat-bots with male names and male voices.
On the sidelines of a technology conference in London Seth Juarez, a specialist in artificial intelligence, work in Redmond, Washington, is taking the next step. It invokes Siri on his iPhone to tell the time, and he answers a male voice. “I specifically chose the male version because I think it’s unethical that all service bots like women, and all the bots based on artificial intelligence [as Watson from IBM] named after boys,” explains Juarez.
He added that as a General rule, artificial intelligence should not be anthropomorphization. Chat bots must be used for “trivial operations” or “things that people would do mechanically” and not for more complex issues. “I would leave these issues to people,” says Juarez.
Translation Natalia Balabanchevo
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