Are Chatbots a High-Tech Female Stereotype?

By Kevin Flanagan, Marketing Director, Micronotes

Forbes published an interesting article this week that presented thought-provoking ideas about both the increasing use of technology within the banking industry—including artificial intelligence—and the proliferation of chatbots with female “personalities.”

The piece, written by Parmy Olson, who covers AI, chatbots and digital assistants, calls out the growing number of financial institutions that have introduced chatbots with names such as Amy, Debbie, Inga, Mia, Erica, Eva and Cora.

Olson’s article, titled “Banks Are Promoting 'Female' Chatbots To Help Customers, Raising Concerns Of Stereotyping,” noted that similar criticism also has been leveled against the digital assistants from Apple (Siri) and Amazon (Alexa).

“ING of the Netherlands has Inga, a chatbot that will "respond with empathy" to customer problems such as losing a card. (ING has a male chatbot named Bill, aimed at dealing with corporate customers),” Olson wrote. So, customers who need empathy will be helped by a female chatbot, while corporate types will talk business with a “guy” named Bill. Ouch!

While some banks have unnamed chatbots, Olson found only one bank, Credit Agricole of France, that offers a chatbot with a male personality, Hector. Score one for the French.

The article wraps up with a quote from Seth Juarez, an AI engineer from the U.S., that really caught my eye: “[Juarez] calls Siri up on his iPhone to ask the time, and a male voice responds. ‘I make it a guy specifically because I find it morally reprehensible that all of the service-based bots are female, and all the intelligence based bots [like IBM’s Watson] are named after dudes.’

“He added that artificial intelligence generally shouldn’t be anthropomorphised. Chatbots should be used to manage ‘cheap thoughts,’ or ‘stuff that a human would do robotically’ rather than on more complex issues. ‘I would leave those problems to humans.’”

At Micronotes, we couldn’t agree more with that last statement.

As a company that provides financial institutions with an artificially intelligent marketing automation solution that enables them to engage with customers who prefer digital banking to branch visits, we always applaud a champion who recognizes the difference between the type of relatively low-level capabilities chatbots provide, vs. the more sophisticated artificial intelligence machine learning solution that our clients use to great business advantage.