Yandex is Russia's answer to Weibo, an everything-under-one-(semi-state-controlled)-roof online service, and its answer to Alexa is Alisa.
In a fascinating, long Aeon piece on the "emotional labor" of voice assistants and the cultural baggage that this embeds, Polina Aronson and Judith Duportail describe the design philosophy that went into Alisa, best summed up by the difference between how Alisa and Google Voice Assistant respond to the phrase "I feel sad." Google's bot says, "I wish I had arms so I could give you a hug." Alisa says, "No one said life was about having fun."
Alisa's project manager Ilya Subbotin says that "Alisa couldn't be too sweet, too nice." Because "[Russia is] a country where people tick differently than in the West. They will rather appreciate a bit of irony, a bit of dark humour, nothing offensive of course, but also not too sweet."
Subbotin describes Alisa as a "good girl" and says the company takes countermeasures to prevent her from being trained on racist, reactionary data and suffering the fate of Tay, Microsoft's Nazi chatbot
But still: when Alisa launched (amidst the debate about Russia's decriminalization of wife-beating, whether it was OK to hit your wife, it answered "Of course If a wife is beaten by her husband she still needs to be patient, love him, feed him and never let him go."
By contrast, Alisa is a dispenser of hard truths and tough love; she encapsulates the Russian ideal: a woman who is capable of halting a galloping horse and entering a burning hut (to cite the 19th-century poet Nikolai Nekrasov). Alisa is a product of emotional socialism, a regime that, according to the sociologist Julia Lerner, accepts suffering as unavoidable, and thus better taken with a clenched jaw rather than with a soft embrace. Anchored in the 19th-century Russian literary tradition, emotional socialism doesn't rate individual happiness terribly highly, but prizes one's ability to live with atrocity.
The quantified heart [Polina Aronson and Judith Duportail/Aeon]
(via Wolf in Living Room)