Speak up! Exploring Decentralised Voice Assistant Futures through Speculative Design

Mike Shorter, E-M LewJong

Five years ago we were promised the power of voice assistant technology in our lives. This delightful and terrifying prospect exists in over a quarter of German homes, but has failed to live up to the hype. Come join us to unpack the complexities of these so-called intelligent machines in a speculative design workshop creating the futures we want.
Workshop F
Hands On

Voice Assistants, once so filled with future promise, have faded into occasional egg timers, light switches and spotify players which is not surprising as they are built on datasets that overly represent white english speaking males* leaving untold missing voices from the stories in their development. Giving voice is generally understood to bring in different perspectives, desires in ways to address otherwise silent and invisible wants and needs. When it comes to voice assistants, few people are currently in the position to give voice to these devices. The limited usability and functionality is one of the indicators for this. Another indication is the absence of concern for transparency of their activities - leaving users basically speechless when it comes to speak about them, understand them and with that develop coping strategies. The absence of voice means a disempowerment, a lack of agency. We will arrive with a set of physical props that begin to unlock this speechlessness by exploring the complexities and tensions hidden within these powerful devices. By understanding these current and near future capabilities we can start to speculate, debate and sketch out ideas for futures where we have not just the functionality we want from these devices, but also the relationships we want with these devices. We will explore how this technology affects the ethical, political, economic, environmental and social aspects of our individual and collective futures.

You don’t need to be a coder, engineer or designer to be a storyteller in our collective futures. We have the props - you write the stories! 


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Creative Technologist