Amazon's Alexa Accused Of 'Sexist' Response To Lionesses' Semi-Final Victory

Not the robots, too?
Amazon's Alexa Echo has been accused of sexism after failing to answer a question about the Lionesses
Amazon's Alexa Echo has been accused of sexism after failing to answer a question about the Lionesses

Amazon’s Alexa has just been accused of sexism after it gave a rather peculiar response to a question about the Lionesses’ iconic match on Wednesday.

The England football team just secured a place in the Women’s World Cup final, after winning 3-1 against co-host Australia.

The highly-anticipated game saw figures from around the country publicly voice their support for the Lionesses. Even famous actor Brian Blessed offered a rousing version of the Three Lions on BBC Newsnight to stir the team into action.

But, apparently this national enthusiasm didn’t reach Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

Asked on Wednesday for the “result of the England-Australia football match today,” it just said there was no such match.

An Amazon spokesperson told the BBC: “This was an error that has been fixed.”

However, senior lecturer in psychiatry at Kent and Medway Medical School, Joanne Rodda, told the broadcasters that it showed “sexism in football was embedded in Alexa”.

She said she was only able to get a response when she asked about the “women’s England-Australia football match”.

After Amazon said the situation had been amended, the academic told the BBC that it was “pretty sad” Alexa was only now fixing the algorithm so it would recognise Women’s World Cup football just as football.

Dr Rodda also said she tested the system again after the error was supposed amended by Amazon.

This time, she focused on the Women’s Super League by asking “who Arsenal football team are playing in October” – but Alexa only replied about the men’s team.

It also wasn’t able to reply specifically about women’s events, even when asked.

There were already concerns that artificial intelligence (AI) would inherit the biases already seen across society and therefore the data the bots mine from.

Many people (including tennis ace Andy Murray) are also frustrated that men’s sports is often just referred to by the activity rather than by the gender of the players, while women’s sports is often prefixed by “women’s”.

Critics say this language plays into the idea that men’s sports is the main event.

And the treatment of the Lionesses – who became European champions in 2022 – has repeatedly shown just how pervasive sexism in sport, no matter how successful the athletes become.

Alexa finds its answers by looking through Amazon, licensed content providers and websites, according to the company.

As with most AI systems, the voice assistant is meant to improve over time and it has teams meant to help it identify the correct information in the context of the question.

But, worries about these systems become prejudiced is a very pressing issue developers working with AI need to address – especially as it’s hard to make a bot forget something it has already learned.


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