Google Assistant and PC
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, recently revealed a new personal assistant to accompany its Google Home voice-activated system that allows users to stream music, get answers about the weather or traffic, and manage everyday tasks. They didn’t want to make it female or sound too American, so they literally called it “Assistant.” But if they can enhance its artificial intelligence a bit, it may be promoted to “lifestyle manager” and warrant a female-gendered name.
While Google employees contrive all manner of reasons for avoiding a more personal name for its new Assistant, industry insiders understand that Google simply didn’t want to give it a gender or make it sound too American.
Leave it to the peevish, brainwashed, social-engineering techies at Google to find something wrong with sounding American. There has long been suspicion about Google’s hatred of America -- maybe there are too many on their rolls with H-1B visas from countries that resent our success. Just do a search (perhaps using duckduckgo.com or Startpage rather than Google) to see numerous reputable media outlets questioning Google’s patriotism. This past Memorial Day, for example, they again overlooked an obvious opportunity to celebrate our military heroes with a respectful doodle.
Given their proclivity for doodling over American history, I’m not surprised they’d recoil at an Americanized name (even though their main corporate campus is in California). But what perplexes me is why they foment a gender conundrum. One industry analyst speculated that by naming its personal gizmo “Assistant,” Google avoids problematic issues with generally female-gendered assistants.
What problematic issues? In the real world, personal assistant and administrative assistant positions provide cushy employment for many people, mostly women. They aren’t out there dangling over the sides of bridges with power tools, toiling in sweaty machine shops, balancing gingerly with roof tiles atop houses, risking life and limb to harvest timber for our housing demands or struggling with cumbersome machinery to extract energy from inhospitable places.
Increasingly, women do these dangerous jobs, and deserve our appreciation, but they are still overrepresented in the personal and administrative assistant positions. They sit in cozy chairs arranging meeting schedules, booking flights for their bosses, and generally memorizing and organizing things in comfy surroundings. In essence, doing what Google’s Assistant purports to do. They even benefit from the gender-hours gap that comes with flexible work schedules and minimal travel that these assistant positions afford.
The organization I work for has many administrative assistants, and the vast majority are women. I know several of them, and they are very grateful for work that doesn’t require highly specialized or technical skills, nor arduous physical exertion, all the while letting them achieve optimal work-life balance. Why should that be hidden – it’s good work if you can get it?
The assistants who’ve sufficiently mollycoddled their managers are often promoted to Management Analyst. They do essentially the same work, but instead of scheduling and ordering the refreshments for the group retreat, they draft the agenda in order to satisfy the new job description. The preponderance are women who are competent and proud, and I’ve discovered that they strongly appreciate being called by their proper female names, rather than “admin.” And certainly not “Assistant.”
Google should do the same for its Assistant -- adorn it with a good-natured, friendly female name. But let’s explore another solution: if Google Assistant has a modicum of artificial intelligence, if it can learn our habits and interests, if it can predict our needs and make recommendations, even offer soothing music choices to quell our anxiety, then it needs a promotion like at my workplace. The Assistant might actually become a “lifestyle manager,” perhaps an analyst. That carries more prestige; presumably, it wouldn’t offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities if the manager were then given a professional female name.
The market would be large: many people who matured in the self-esteem movement struggle with cognitive dissonance when the world fails to recognize their specialness. They are stressed out; abuse illegal and prescription drugs; abuse alcohol and have trouble sleeping. Many are losing control of their emotions as they wallow in imagined victimhood and otherwise experience discordance from reality. They could certainly use a lifestyle manager, even a robotic analyst, with a sympathetic, feminine name.
As you can see on page 6 of this BLS-generated document (2015) “Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity,” women represent 85% of personal care aides; 72.2% of employees in office and administrative support occupations; 82% of social and human service assistants; and 90% of receptionist and information clerks. Some of these duties Google’s Assistant would relish, so why disparage this important, female-dominated work by deploying the androgynous “Assistant”?
We should celebrate women’s contributions in the workplace. Yes, they are skilled, unbelievably dedicated professionals of all sorts: researchers and doctors and lawyers and pilots and such. But it’s only realistic to recognize they still dominate the administrative assistant and lifestyle management fields. If I’m honest rather than PC, I’ve learned that women, although generally less commanding, are effective social leaders. Without their specialties there’d be minimal “team building” social events that enhance the interdisciplinary and holistic paradigm to which my workplace aspires.
Google would do well to show respect by giving their new assistant-cum-lifestyle manager a gender-based name. Googie (ie) is too campy, but since they recently renamed themselves Alphabet, how about Alphia? That might perpetuate brand loyalty while avoiding the traditional, all-American names that make them irrationally shudder.