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Prague-based media development worker from Poland with a journalistic background. Previously worked on digital issues in Brussels. Piqs about digital issues, digital rights, data protection, new trends in journalism and anything else that grabs my attention.
During the holiday gift-giving season, thousands of people will find voice-controlled devices under their Christmas trees. With the growing number of smart speakers and other voice-activated appliances, Siri, Alexa, Cortana or the Google Assistant that power them are also becoming more commonplace.
Drawing inspiration from the rising popularity of virtual assistants, podcasting network Gimlet Media came up with scripted fiction podcast Sandra. Launched this year, the seven-episode tech thriller is the story of Helen Perez (voiced by Alia Shawkat), a soon-to-be divorcée “who takes a job at a company behind Sandra, the world’s most intuitive virtual assistant”, as the intro of the podcast says.
However, Sandra is neither like Siri nor like any other AI-enabled voice assistant that we have become so familiarized with. Built by a made-up tech giant Orbital Industries, the product isn't powered by AI but, unbeknownst to the users, by an army of real operators, like the newly hired Helen, who spend their days listening to endless stream of queries and manually handle users’ demands.
Gimlet's podcast is a biting commentary on utopianism of Silicon Valley and their unwavering belief that their tech products are always changing society for the better. Sandra also shows what could happen if Siri had a conscience and would actually get invested in the problems of her customers, making the story relevant for the debate about emotionally intelligent AI that interacts with people in a more 'human' way.
Phenomenal voice acting and a great sound design got Sandra a place on Mashable's year-end list of “12 binge-worthy podcasts that debuted in 2018” and an honorable mention on The Verge’s “11 favorite new podcasts of 2018”. And if you're more of a viewer than a listener, there’s good news: Sandra has already been picked up for premium television development.