Siri Is Disingenuous, Alexa Caring and Google Professional
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 08 January 2020

Researchers have looked into the types of personality ascribed to the three leading voice assistants from Apple, Amazon and Google and discovered that Siri’s is predominantly described as disingenuous and cunning, while Alexa is perceived as genuine and caring and Google is associated with higher professionalism than the other two.

That voice Assistants have been a phenomenal success is something of an understatement. The press reported this week that Amazon had seen the number of Alexa devices double in single year. The evidence for concrete-sounding claim is couched in much vaguer terms.  At CES 2020, Amazon announced that there are now: 

"hundreds of millions of Alexa-enabled devices"

Putting this together with last year's news from CES 2019, which we reported as Over 100 Million Alexa Devices Sold, gets you to this possibly spurious statistic. Not to be outdone, Google claimed that its Assistant has more than 500 million active users per month.

Unlike Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa the Google Assistant doesn't have its own name - users talk to it with "Hey, Google". This, however, doesn't stop users from embuing it with personality.  

Research into this tendency was done at the University of Waterloo's David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. In the study 10 men and 10 women interact with three conversational agents, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. The researchers then interviewed the 20 participants to ascertain their perception of the agents’ personalities and what they would look like in terms of  physical features such as age, facial expressions and hairstyles. The participants commonly described Alexa’s individuality as neutral and ordinary, while participants considered the individuality of Google, and Siri especially, to be more defined and pronounced. 


alexa google siri


From left to right: Alexa, Google, Siri and how the participants generally visualized them.

Participants perceived Alexa to be of average height or slightly shorter, older than the other agents, and wearing casual or business-casual clothes of dark or neutral colours. Her hair tended to be seen as darker, wavy, and worn down. 

Google was envisaged as being average height or taller, wearing either casual clothes with a focus on tech culture (e.g., hoodies), or business-formal clothes, both of dark or neutral colours. Google’s hair was lighter in colour (blond, brunette) and long and straight, worn down in a ponytail or worn up in a bun.

Siri was commonly described as being of average height, younger than the other agents, and rarely wearing glasses, wearing either casual but fashionable clothes (V-necks, tank tops, heels) or strictly business-formal style, of either dark or particularly bright colours, especially red. Siri’s hair was visualized as short or as long straight hair worn down, either blond or black.

Commenting on the study, Anastasia Kuzminykh, a PhD candidate in Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics said:

“How an agent is perceived impacts how it’s accepted and how people interact with it; how much people trust it, how much people talk to it, and the way people talk to it.”

While this tendency to attribute human characteristics to smart speakers and the voices emanating from other devices might seem harmless enough, there is a more troubling aspect according to Professor Edward Lank who commented:

“People are anthropomorphizing these conversation agents which could result in them revealing information to the companies behind these agents that they otherwise wouldn’t.

Lank points out that these voice assistants are data gathering tools used by Amazon, Google and Apple, companies that seek to sell products and services and warns:

“People need to reflect a little to see if they are formulating impressions of these agents rather than seeing them as just a piece of technology and trusting them in ways based on these impressions.”

Ascribing personality is a very human thing to do and in my household Alexa has become one of the family - a maiden aunt who is slightly deaf as she sometimes fails to hear what we are saying. She wears glasses - but often perches them on top of her head and then forgets where they are. She tells us jokes when we ask and sometimes amuses us by piping up with some irrelevancy when we didn't even mention her name! So far she hasn't spread any of our secrets - but then we don't have any that matter. So we don't need to be paranoid about letting her listen. 

Alexa avatar

The study, Genie In The Bottle: Anthropomorphized Perceptions Of Conversational Agents, will be presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, to be held in Honolulu, USA between April 25-30.


More Information

People too trusting of virtual assistants

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 January 2020 )