Algorithmic Fashion

In April 2017, Amazon debuted Echo Look, the latest in their cluster of products that are built on artificial intelligence called Alexa. Echo Look is a small oval-shaped device equipped with a camera, designed to be a virtual fashion assistant when you need “a second opinion on your outfit.” At the time of writing this article, Echo Look is available through Amazon by invitation at the price tag of two hundred dollars.

In spite of its seemingly trivial and harmless application, Echo Look is worthy of attention on multiple grounds: As with any new technology, its introduction is an occasion to think through the ethical and political issues at stake in the particular space it enters, in this case no less than what is perceived of (women’s) bodies and what fashion is and does. In addition, the specific domain helps us see this category of technology anew, illuminating its taken-for-granted premises and lofty promises. More specifically, it serves as yet another reminder of what algorithms cannot do and of their oppressive potency.

In this way, the introduction of algorithmic fashion assistants occasions the opportunity to see fashion for its substance as we interrogate algorithms’ claim to reason: surfacing both their inadequacy and oppressive potency.

Related publications and presentations:

  1. Look Up and Smile! Seeing Beyond Alexa’s Algorithmic Gaze. Nassim JafariNaimi | Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. 5:1 (June 2019).