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How a virtual assistant taught me to appreciate busy work| GuyWhoKnowsThings


I don't need help scheduling more things to do; I need to do less. Often these services suggest that users throw money at the problem (which isn't very helpful if one of your problems is that you don't have enough money). Apps transform parents from workers to consumers, translating our to-do lists into shopping lists. Someone is still performing our “joy stealing” tasks, and it may be a call center worker or one of the many other invisible workers who make artificial intelligence systems appear to work automatically.

The border between the human and the artificial is slippery; Yohana emphasizes that she employs “real humans (not AI chatbots) who can do the hard work,” although according to Forbes, those humans are using generative AI. to attend them with our tasks. When these services call themselves “worker bees,” “secret helpers,” or “fairy godmothers,” they rely on fantasy iconography to obscure the grimmer reality of handing over their “hard work” to an anonymous workforce.

The work these services hope to eradicate (or at least obscure) is feminized. It is “women's work” and, in fact, most of my Yohana assistants had female names. One of the most useful things a virtual assistant can do is allocate family responsibilities more equitably among its members, a duty commonly considered “nagging.”

Last year, Meghan Verena Joyce, CEO of another task delegation service, Duckbill, argument that “with its efficiency and personalization capabilities,” artificial intelligence “could play a crucial role in alleviating the social and economic burdens that disproportionately affect women.”

In an illustration on Yohana's website, a typical user is portrayed as a bespectacled woman carrying a baby in a carrier, holding a square of wrapping paper under one foot, balancing a bowl of dog food on one raised leg. , stirs a pot with one hand and types on a computer with the other. She looks like Rosie from the Jetsons: each mechanical limb activates autonomously to work more efficiently. We're familiar with AI assistants, like Apple's Siri, that are modeled after female stereotypes, but here it seems as if the opposite is happening: a mother has been reframed as a robotic being, her job dismissed as routine. and easily outsourced.

In the few weeks I spent as a virtual assistant, I realized that much of the intense work that apps require is actually quite personal, often rewarding, and occasionally transformative.


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