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Does Siri Have a Soul? Exploring Voice Assistants Through Shinto Design Fictions

William Seymour and Max Van Kleek


It can be difficult to critically reflect on technology that has become part of everyday rituals and routines. To combat this, speculative and fictional approaches have previously been used by HCI to decontextualise the familiar and imagine alternatives. In this work we turn to Japanese Shinto narratives as a way to defamiliarise voice assistants, inspired by the similarities between how assistants appear to 'inhabit' objects similarly to kami. Describing an alternate future where assistant presences live inside objects, this approach foregrounds some of the phenomenological quirks that can otherwise easily become lost. Divorced from the reality of daily life, this approach allows us to reevaluate some of the common interactions and design patterns that are common in the virtual assistants of the present.

Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems