• Alexa and the Intersectional Interface

    Luke Munn (see profile)
    Artificial intelligence
    Item Type:
    Alexa, intelligent assistant, smarthome, Gender
    Permanent URL:
    The interface, Francois Dagognet wrote, is a “fertile nexus.” Rather than an immaterial surface or an impartial gateway, the interface itself continually draws upon political, social and cultural sources, all which work to encourage particular productivities while suppressing or negating others. This article explores the specific properties of Amazon Alexa, the “digital assistant” for the home who plays music, delivers news, tells jokes, and plays games. Of course, Alexa interfaces with content — a deluge of diverse applications and information are smoothly brought together through her consistent voice and coherent personality. But Alexa also interfaces with history — she is part of a longer genealogy of gendered interfaces from Siri and Cortana all the way back to Bell Labs, a genealogy predicated on a subjectivity of subservience. Alexa also interfaces with capital — the “Skills” she can learn, and which the user must remember and repeat, are based on a landscape of corporate brands and commercial products. Finally, Alexa interfaces with culture — the predominantly white male culture of contemporary software production shapes the type of sexuality and subjectivity embodied by the bot. Following Alexander Galloway, the interface can thus be understood less as a mere palimpsest of previous traces, and more as a generative performance in the present. The runaway success of Alexa has established her as a universal mediator for the smart home and a model for the internet of things. As the prototype of a technical vision, Alexa’s performative interfacing — and the politics enacted through it — need critical examination.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago


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