BMW recalled its GPS systems with female voices in Germany due to sexism!
BMW had to recall their GPS system because male German drivers were refusing to take directions from a female voice.
Hoax or Fact:
The messages claim that popular automotive company BMW has once recalled its GPS system in Car after German men drivers refused to take directions from the female voice. Yes, it is a fact.
This was disclosed online by Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor who studies people's interaction with technology. Nass talked about this incident in an NPR show, and also detailed about it in his book called 'The Man Who Lied to His Laptop' that was published in 2010.
About the Incident
In an NPR show that talked about 'Studying Computers To Learn About Ourselves', which was aired in September 2010, the communications professor Clifford Nass explained how humans interact and relate with computers. When the host of the show Ira Flatow asked Nass a related question, also referring to his book which said German carmakers would not put a female voice into the GPS, the revelation came up:
FLATOW: You know, what is it about our GPS in particular? I think we really take it out on it. And you've consulted with car companies on that. And I found interesting in you book, you start out in the front of your book talking about that German carmakers would not put a female voice into the GPS.
Dr. NASS: Well, even worse, BMW did in fact put a female voice in their GPS, and they actually had to have a product recall because German drivers would not take directions from a woman.
This incident happened in late 1990s, when BMW was flooded with calls from German men saying they do not want to take directions from a woman; as a result of which, BMW was forced to recall the female-voiced navigation system on its 5 Series cars. What more, even BMW was guilty of sexism when their customer service representatives tried to calm down the callers by explaining that men were actually behind the making of both the car as well as the directions.
Why the Gender Bias
The German drivers at that time considered it as a deal breaker to have a female voice in their GPS system. Taking directions from a woman, essentially in a 'driver's seat' challenged their traditional ideas that existed in the society. Moreover, men consider women to be less knowledgeable and do not trust the female voice offering directions.
Research of Prof. Nass has shown that people apply gender biases even to digital voices. Not just in Germany, in other roles, and in few other countries, female voices may not fly at all. According to Prof. Nass, a call center in Japan operated by Fidelity would rely on an automated female voice to give stock quotes, but for transactions, it would transfer customers to an automated male voice. His findings suggest that, even the iPhone owners in U.S. might be more inclined to overlook a male Siri's shortcomings when compared to that of a female's.
It's interesting to note that iPhone and iPad users who speak English, French or German will soon be able to choose whether Siri answers them in a female’s voice or a male’s.
Why Female Voice
The answer to the question as to why most computerized voices are female could be simply because people in general find women's voice more pleasing than men's. There are scientific studies to prove the same. Another probable reason for using female voice in navigation devices goes back to history during World War II, when female voices were employed in airplane cockpits, as they stood out among the male pilots. Moreover, the telephone operators have traditionally been female, which made people accustomed to getting help from a disembodied woman's voice.
To conclude, technology is, and should be meant to make our life easy, comfortable and advanced, but by no means it should become another platform to promote Sexism. The factual incident above, unfortunately, is an example to show our societal aversion towards women - being demonstrated institutionally, socially and now even digitally.