Who are the people inside your virtual assistants?
Alexa is the name of Amazon’s voice-activated AI assistant, which people commonly install in their homes to listen to music, shop, make to-do lists, etc. What is not readily apparent is that dozens of employees at an Amazon office will listen to and transcribe every word said to an Alexa-enabled device (such as the Amazon Echo Dot used in this installation), amounting to thousands of utterances a day. One such former Amazon worker is poet and MidGray collaborator Catherine Chen. During her tenure at Amazon she, like every other worker, had her output and efficiency timed to the second. They are required to treat all language they hear, from banalities to hate speech, as neutral data in pursuit of improving Alexa’s artificial intelligence.
To make the machine appear more human, the workers are treated like machines.
This project injects utterances of beauty, passion, and humor into the queue of transcriptions to be reviewed by Amazon workers. We invite visitors to this installation to affirm the humanity of the workers on the other side of Alexa by reading tiny works of poetry, literature, inspiration, and humor to them.