“Alexa, who am I?”: Voice Assistants and Hermeneutic Lemniscate as the Technologically Mediated Sense-Making

Human Studies 44 (2):233-253 (2021)
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Abstract

In this paper, I argue that AI-powered voice assistants, just as all technologies, actively mediate our interpretative structures, including values. I show this by explaining the productive role of technologies in the way people make sense of themselves and those around them. More specifically, I rely on the hermeneutics of Gadamer and the material hermeneutics of Ihde to develop a hermeneutic lemniscate as a principle of technologically mediated sense-making. The lemniscate principle links people, technologies and the sociocultural world in the joint production of meaning and explicates the feedback channels between the three counterparts. When people make sense of technologies, they necessarily engage their moral histories to comprehend new technologies and fit them in daily practices. As such, the lemniscate principle offers a chance to explore the moral dynamics taking place during technological appropriation. Using digital voice assistants as an example, I show how these AI-guided devices mediate our moral inclinations, decisions and even our values, while in parallel suggesting how to use and design them in an informed and critical way.

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