Bots spending more time fending off sexual harassment: Report

A screenshot of Apple's mobile app, Siri. The popularity of bots - and their new status as full-time virtual assistants - means that they are also subjected to the pitfalls of sexual harassment at the workplace.
A screenshot of Apple's mobile app, Siri. The popularity of bots - and their new status as full-time virtual assistants - means that they are also subjected to the pitfalls of sexual harassment at the workplace.PHOTO: APPLE

The popularity of bots - and their new status as full-time virtual assistants - means that they are also subjected to the pitfalls of sexual harassment at the workplace.

News website Quartz, in a report on Wednesday (Oct 26), said that as bots take on more responsibilities, their algorithms are spending more time "parrying flirtations, dodging personal questions, and dealing with darker forms of sexual harassment".

Bot makers quoted in the report said they encountered the issue regularly, although the actual scale of sexual harassment is unclear as it is hard to identify cases automatically.

Mr Ilya Eckstein, the co-founder of Robin Labs which has a bot platform that helps drivers locate the best routes, told Quartz: "People want to flirt, they want to dream about a subservient girlfriend, or even a sexual slave. It may just be more for laughs, or something deeper underneath the surface."

An ongoing debate centres around whether bot makers should avoid humanising their creations.

For instance, Google's Google Assistant is one of the few bots that has a female voice but no distinct personality.

Others, such as Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana, have a strong human persona with "clearly feminine" voices, Quartz noted.

The solution? Most makers are in agreement that they need to adapt bots to respond depending on the tone, context and intent of the person they are interacting with.

Some believe that bots can be turned into savvy conversationalists within a few years, which regardless of gender can provide the appropriate responses and keep sexual overtures at bay.