I’m currently preparing a talk for a group of HR professionals on the subject of AI, machine learning and robots. My opening gambit is going to be that robots have already taken over our houses and have us enslaved.

A strong pitch. What are these robots of which I speak? Well, you probably know them as washing machines. And with their incessant bleep-bleep-bleeping they have us at their beck and call, loading, unloading, folding and ironing. The net result of this robotic automation is that we are doing more laundry-based manual labour than ever before. It might be of a less physically arduous nature than our mangle-toting forbears, but the hours are longer.

But of course we don’t regards the spin washer as a robot. It’s a mere machine. What’s the difference? Largely is a matter of anthropomorphism: the Hotpoint doesn’t look like a person (although it’s suspiciously reminiscent of Clarke & Kubrick’s HAL); washing machines aren’t given names like Wally or William.

If they were, of course, I fear inevitably it wouldn’t be a male name. There are too many deep-rooted sexist cultural stereotypes that are sustained in soap powder commercials with which to contend.

But this got me thinking. There are two types of AI in the mainstream consciousness at the moment: servant assistants and “big brains”.

The former are exclusively female characters: Alexa, Cortana, Siri… Even Google’s nameless “OK Google” speaks with a female voice. They are there to serve us.

The big brains, however… Watson, Ross… If it’s a focus on the cognitive power of an AI your after, your anthropomorphic brand goes butch.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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