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“Alexa, define empowerment”: voice assistants at home, appropriation and technoperformances

Olya Kudina (Section on Ethics and Philosophy of Technology, Department of Values, Technology and Innovation, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands)
Mark Coeckelbergh (Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 10 May 2021

Issue publication date: 4 June 2021

181

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to show how the production of meaning is a matter of people interacting with technologies, throughout their appropriation and in co-performances. The researchers rely on the case of household-based voice assistants that endorse speaking as a primary mode of interaction with technologies. By analyzing the ethical significance of voice assistants as co-producers of moral meaning intervening in the material and socio-cultural space of the home, the paper invites their informed and critical use as a form of (re-)empowerment while acknowledging their productive role in human values.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper presents an empirically informed philosophical analysis. Using the conceptual frameworks of technological appropriation and human–technological performances, while drawing on the interviews with voice assistants’ users and literature studies, this paper unravels the meaning-making processes in relation to these technologies in the household use. It additionally draws on a Wittgensteinian perspective to attend to the productive role of language and link to wider cultural meanings.

Findings

By combining two approaches, appropriation and technoperformances, and analyzing the themes of privacy, power and knowledge, the paper shows how voice assistants help to shape a specific moral subject: embodied in space and made as it performatively responds to the device and makes sense of it together with others.

Originality/value

The researchers show how through making sense of technologies in appropriation and performatively responding to them, people can change and intervene in the power structures that technologies suggest.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Olya Kudina’s work on this paper has been supported financially by the project Value Change that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, grant agreement No 788321.

Citation

Kudina, O. and Coeckelbergh, M. (2021), "“Alexa, define empowerment”: voice assistants at home, appropriation and technoperformances", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 299-312. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-06-2020-0072

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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