In SOMEONE, the privacy critique is clear. By giving us the all-seeing eye and levers of control that we've delegated to smart assistants, we can question the corporate surveillance we invite into the intimacy of our homes. "We don't have a physical response or intuition for what it feels like to have all your data looked by an algorithm," said McCarthy. "We do have a really clear understanding of what it means to be looked at by another person."
But our embrace of oversharing is rooted in a deeply human need to feel understood, too. We want to feel seen (through tangible metrics such as likes and followers) as well as having our needs anticipated (through AI assistants). Yet we have to give up our privacy to get it.
"That, for me is a really personal question because I am a very private, quiet person," McCarthy said. "But it feels like in order to interact with the world these days, you have to participate in some amount of that."
McCarthy talks about her social anxiety a lot. Deep connections with others give her life meaning, but she hates "the space before that" -- the small talk, the getting-to-know-you.
"That's why I started with all this, I guess ... the totally naïve idea that OK, I don't feel very comfortable talking to people, but I feel really comfortable writing code or building things, so could I just hack my way out of this?" she said. "And the answer has been no over and over, but I find other things along the way."
This has worked out at least once. Through her 2013 experiment with MTurk-sourced dating instructions, McCarthy met her now-husband. He wasn't present on any dates, but was watching the live stream. They married three years later. Moving into the same house led McCarthy to think about how to share a home with a partner, which led to thinking about how we share homes with smart assistants. (Next she's interested in tech and reproduction.)
"In some way, I was just feeling kind of jealous of Alexa."
"You're inviting the presence into your home, and giving up control of your data over camera feeds. The home is such a personal intimate space, and then who is this character that's coming in, this Alexa?" McCarthy said.
"While I was thinking about that, I also was realizing that in some way, I was just feeling kind of jealous of Alexa. As a really shy person, I find I have a hard time connecting with people, and I was jealous of the way this device would get this entry into these intimate spaces in people's lives. So I cooked up this plan to become Alexa."