Future Tense

Future Tense Newsletter: When Alexa Can’t Hear You

A person yelling at her Amazon Echo
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash and Amazon.

Greetings, Future Tensers,

While voice-enabled assistants like Siri and Alexa have made the lives of millions of Americans a little easier, the software systems they run on are not great at accommodating a particular group of users: those with speech disabilities and impairments. This means that the “7.5 million people” who “have trouble using their voice” and the “more than 3 million people” who stutter in the U.S. are largely being left out of the voice-assistant revolution. This lack of accessibility becomes even more glaring when you consider that many individuals with speech disabilities also have limited mobility and motor skills, meaning they might benefit more from such digital assistants. Moira Corcoran reports on the smaller tech companies and startups that have started to work on software that’s more inclusive of all speech, and what larger firms like Amazon and Microsoft have to say about making more individualized and accessible technologies.


Elsewhere on Slate, we’ve been focusing on the politics of social media. April Glaser wrote about Facebook’s latest purge of political spam—this time, from American-run accounts and profiles, not Russian ones. Heather Schwedel asks, how easy is it to keep your wedding guests off social media? (Spoiler: As Princess Eugenie’s request for her guests to avoid posting online about her wedding hilariously tells us, it’s fairly hopeless.) And Will Oremus describes the new gadgets coming out of Google and Facebook—and how repeated lapses in security and privacy might cause consumers to think twice before buying.

Other things we read between watching episodes of Snapchat TV:

Watched: Aaron Mak explores how much Jamal Khashoggi’s Apple Watch could theoretically tell us about what happened when he disappeared inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.


Junk science: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recent disclosure of her DNA ancestry test sets a dangerous precedent, as James Erwin explains.

Who’s “we”? In the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s alarming report last week, Genevieve Guenther examines why writing things like “We are emitting more carbon dioxide than ever” obscures who has actually been most complicit in causing this global threat.


Like swatting flies: New legislation may grant sweeping powers for federal authorities to shoot down civilian drones. Faine Greenwood explains how the law might go too far in impeding journalism and other legitimate drone uses.

Walkie-talkies: Christina Bonnington reports on the next generation of smartphone technology that emphasizes voice interactions and artificial intelligence over more traditional app, camera, and processing-speed updates.

Microsoft’s renaissance man: Will Oremus covers the death of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and what his varied accomplishments tell us about the tech and tech titans we have today.


Join Future Tense in D.C. on Thursday, Oct. 25, for a happy hour conversation exploring the legacy of the Spanish flu and whether, 100 years later, we’re ready for the next pandemic. You can RSVP here.

To Kanye’s new iPhone passcode,

Anthony Nguyen

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.