March 25, 2023

Silicon Valley startups sometimes seem to have made the most dystopian uses of AI their goal. Earlier this month, we had Meta’s racist chatbot and AI-generated rapper using the n-word, and before that, back in June, we learned that Google AI was so good that it convinced engineers that it had conscious.This time, Palo Alto-based startup Sanas has introduced an artificial intelligence to the world that aims to make foreign call center workers accent neutral, and influences make them sound white.

According to reports SFGATE, Sanas is a startup that provides “accent translation” for call center workers, a job that is often outsourced to cheaper foreign markets like India and the Philippines. Founded by three Stanford graduates, Sanas offers a real-time accent translation service, supposedly to make it easier for call center workers to understand. It has raised more than $30 million in venture capital funding.

“We don’t want to say that the accent is an issue because you have an accent,” Sanas president Matty Salim told SFGATE. “They’re just a problem because they lead to prejudice and misunderstanding.”

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According to the demo, you can try it out on Sanas’ website”hear magicIt does work. The software not only removes the accent, but replaces the voice with a disturbing bot that resembles a standard American English accent. According to its website, Sanas believes this will allow call center employees to “reclaim the power of their own voice.” “

A common comparison to Sanas’ AI is the 2018 movie Sorry to bother you The main character, a black man, adopts a “white voice” in order to get more sales in his dystopian call center job. While Sanas claims its AI is designed to eliminate bias, critics assert that “accent translation” is another way of dehumanizing an already dehumanizing job.

“On the face of it, this reflects communication difficulties — people’s inability to understand what other people are saying,” said Winifred Poster, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. SFGATE“But, in reality, it’s coded as a whole bunch of other questions about how accents fuel racism and ethnocentrism.”

The Sanas AI, which doesn’t sound human-like, isn’t much help either.According to Kiran Mirchandani of the University of Toronto, whose research is on the treatment of Indian call center workers, she told SFGATE Those already prone to racist slurs at call center employees also won’t be nice to the robo-voice on the phone.

“If an ‘app’ is placed between workers and customers, if workers are further dehumanized, then customer racism may increase, especially since apps will undoubtedly make mistakes,” she told SFGATE.

Sanas President Salim stressed in an interview SFGATE Workers can choose whether to use the AI’s accent translation. However, if the technology proves to be successful, employees will not have much choice, according to those familiar with the exploitative situations taking place within the foreign call center industry.

“In the labor process of a call center, there is almost nothing involved in the choice of workers in terms of technology,” Poster told SFGATE. Workers are already under deep intrusive surveillance that makes it nearly impossible to have a real conversation with someone on the other end. “

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