Group for Experimental Methods in Humanistic Research
at Columbia University

The Speakerbot Project

  • Jonah Bossewitch

The Spekerbot Project proposes a systematic study of the “smart speakers” a new product category that is growing rapidly. The state of consumer art in artificial intelligence is impressive, but the critical concerns around algorithmic bias and black box governance are even more pronounced on these platforms than on social media and the web.

These problems are difficult, if not impossible, to address analytically, since even developers who worked on these platforms do not know to expect from systems
trained on massive data sets. Social science methods provide us with another approach for studying these phenomena—An ethnography of the robots? Interviews with the speakerbots?

This project aims to observe and document the current moment, studying it closely. As a preliminary step, the speakerbot project will develop a personality questionaire, and ask the same questions to all the speakerbots, Google, Alexa, Siri, Cortana, etc, and compare their responses. We will also track their responses over time.

This research is one way to explore how the systems we are creating replicate the values of their creators, including all their biases—racism, classism, misogyny, and all the usual suspects. The geneis of this project is recounted here: Alchemical Musings/Interviews with the Speakerbots.

This project is currently seeking collaborators.