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Alexa and Elections: How Voice Interactive Devices and Assistants Alter the Provision of Political Information

Alexa and Elections: How Voice Interactive Devices and Assistants Alter the Provision of Political Information

Ben Murphy, LLM (LST) Candidate, Stanford University 

The modern political environment has been rapidly and repeatedly reshaped by developments in technology. Traditional media empires have been disrupted by the internet, information provision reimagined as a result of the rise of social media and political operations redefined by the spread of smartphones. A new wave of technological development is now taking hold as voice interaction technology allows users to use a range of smart voice assistants and smart devices without the need for a traditional interface.

 This paper considers how the development of voice interaction software and voice interactive devices will impact democratic and political systems. Part 1 provides an overview of voice interaction software and its capabilities. Part 2 considers how the use of voice interaction software may have both positive and negative impacts on democratic political systems and part 3 canvases potential policy and regulatory responses.

In the coming years, it is likely that voice interactive devices will continue to proliferate, bringing both benefits and risks to the political system. Whether these benefits or risks are realized will ultimately turn on the behavior and policies of the large technology companies that control the underlying voice interaction software. For this reason, this paper recommends that these companies take proactive steps to consider and address the political impact of voice interactive devices, before voice interaction software has a material effect on the political system.

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