If Amazon’s Alexa is not a “she”, “he”, or ‘it” then what is sh…h…i…?

Term Pronoun

When talking about AI it causes me to pause in conversation. When I speak about Alexa, robots, and Google Assistant I do a pronoun pause. Being an ESL teacher for 20 years that causes me some concern. We all know that using “it” is reserved for inanimate, or lifeless things, and AI things are just that, lifeless things. There should be no confusion. But using ‘it” is reserved for inanimate things such as coffee mugs, TVs or an unknown animate object like John Carpenter’s The Thing. However, AI has progressed to the point that English may need to create 14th and 15th personal pronouns to address AI beings.

Alexa is certainly a “she”, as Google would agree. And a very smart one at that. According to Merriam Webster she is not a “she” by definition, because Alexa is not “a female person or animal”. Also, we can’t call she an “it” because, by Merriam Webster’s definition, an “it” should be “in reference to a lifeless thing”. Is she “lifeless”? Now we need to define “lifeless”.

True, we call ships “she”, but that is an age old superstition meant to protect sailors. Alexa, for example, has yet to prove her “she” worth in that regard.

If you have your AI being set to a masculine voice then the same applies, what pronoun would you use?

Quartz raised this issue not long ago in “It’s time for robots to have their own pronouns”, but it has yet to be debated in an academic or linguistic sense. Let’s discuss it before we are at a loss for words.

So, what pronoun can we use to refer to AI beings (I can’t use a pronoun here)? Any ideas? It must be one syllable, we know that. Post them here.

Ken

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