"Alexa, Tell Me about Your Mother: The History of the Secretary and the End of Secrecy." Catalyst, 2020.

Jessa Lingel and Kate Crawford

Over the last five years, we have seen the rise of a new generation of ‘soft AI’ digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa, all designed with feminized personas. In this paper, we connect these AI assistants to the long history of the secretary, beginning with secretary as a desk and then as a profession, emblematized by the executive assistant.  How have the gendered practices of organization, anticipation and surveillance been reinvoked in AI agents? How do AI secretaries present new relationships to work, computation and the increasing entanglements of bodies and data?