Given that social justice activists were already demanding that home digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa be given protection from sexual harassment, it’s unsurprising that Chinese tech giant Badiu’s plans to boost VR headset sales with a sexy AI ‘virtual girlfriend’ named Vivi have been dropped within days of the announcement.
Baidu-owned video platform iQiyi has pulled an AI “girlfriend” named Vivi from its VR headset after complaints that the product was demeaning to women. “iQiyi has noticed the issue raised by media and already taken the product offline for further modification. We’d like to make an apology for the concerns it might have raised,” it said in a statement printed by The Wall Street Journal, which reached out with questions about Vivi.
Vivi, which was in beta testing, was announced in March as a “built-in AI ‘girlfriend’” and virtual assistant for iQiyi’s new Qiyu VR headset. Beyond acting as a basic voice interface, it was supposed to “read people’s moods through emotion recognition technology” and “intelligently select and recommend movies by interacting with her users.” But according to the Journal, users also praised its ability to flirt and “perform sexy dances,” with one screenshot showing a user groping Vivi’s breast. The South China Morning Post recently profiled the product, quoting a fan whose relationship with Vivi was “like role-playing a domineering boss and his secretary.”
Most well-known virtual assistants from other companies are coded as female by default, which already links femininity with subservience. An AI like Vivi takes this further by sexualizing that power dynamic, while essentially saying that iQiyi’s headset is only meant for straight men. Even as a beta product, it’s a remarkably bad idea for a tech juggernaut like Baidu — and the company seems to agree.