In this third Humane Conversation, Thomas Poell reflects on the societal impact of AI-driven virtual assistants, such as Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant. Virtual assistants are software agents that perform tasks and services based on user commands or questions. Rapidly becoming ubiquitous, they allow a wide variety of third parties, most prominently device manufacturers and content and service providers, to reach billions of users. As these assistants become central to economic transactions and information exchange, they potentially generate related problems of market concentration, privacy invasion, discrimination, and misinformation. To address these challenges, Poell proposes to critically examine virtual assistants as platforms. Building on and advancing the concept of platformization, he discusses how the relations between assistants, third parties and users can be studied along four interrelated dimensions of: 1) infrastructures, 2) markets , 3) governance, and 4) imaginations.
The interview was conducted by Prof. Tobias Blanke, Faculty of Humanities, UvA.