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(Nass died in 2013.) “It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices.”Which sounds nice, but doesn’t necessarily hold up to cultural scrutiny.

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The whole point of having a digital assistant is to have it do stuff for you. But it still sounds like a bit of a reprimand whenever I hear someone talking to an Amazon Echo.

Google has created a new, super-intelligent robot — and it has provided answers to some of the questions that have troubled humans for centuries. and how i ’m not in the mood for a philosophical debate,” the robot said, when urged to discuss ethical questions.

Conversations are one of the most important and difficult tasks that artificial intelligence has to undertake. As well as asking factual and philosophical questions, the robot was also quizzed on its opinions.

The researchers began by asking fairly straightforward questions about technical support. Most other AI bots are trained using a database of answers that they then can choose from, but Google’s robot is able to answer questions in ways that it has not been told to.

It successfully helped its human conversation partner with issues to do with using virtual private networks and browsers that keep crashing. The full study is described in a recent article, 'A Neural Conversational Model', which was delivered at a recent conference on machine learning.(Which, okay, but they could have gone with Alex, right?) And, a spokesperson reminded me, Alexa can be activated with one of 3 words: Alexa, Amazon, or Echo—though some customers have complained they want more options.(Perhaps I should note here that Siri doesn’t always default to a female-sounding voice; if you switch Siri’s language to United Kingdom English, for instance, it switches to male.).(Cortana isn’t actually naked, the director of the Halo franchise has said; she’s just wearing a “holographic body stocking” designed to make it look that way.) Amazon tells me that Alexa is short for Alexandria, an homage to the ancient library.I., and also helps make emails from the assistant appear normal in a person’s larger inbox, like something sent by a human.(The last name Ingram is also a play on words, meant to evoke “n-gram,” which refers to a probabilistic model used frequently in computing.)Mortensen chose Amy for the digital assistant’s first name because, in a previous job, he had an actual human assistant named Amy.The monolithic voice-activated digital assistant will, when instructed, play music for you, read headlines, add items to your Amazon shopping cart, and complete any number of other tasks.And to activate the Echo, you first have to say: “Alexa.” As in, “Alexa, play rock music.” (Or, more pointedly, “Alexa, stop.”)The command for Microsoft’s Cortana—“Hey Cortana”—is similar, though maybe a smidge gentler.This may also be part of a larger tendency for the makers of anthropomorphic technologies, like robots, to play up cute and non-threatening qualities as a vehicle toward social acceptance.The funny thing is, some of the world’s most powerful and destructive technologies have been given female names, too.

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