Are Robots About To Be More Stylish Than You?


Seriously, though; are they? Big tech is clamoring to apply machine learning to everything, even turning objects as benign as the salt shaker into a computer. Internetting things that don’t need to be internetted aside, what happens when something as intimate and creative as personal style rests in the cross hairs?

Getting dressed can be stressful. We’ve all been to that place where we feel lost when putting together an outfit, especially for high-stakes events like interviews or meeting your partner’s parents. This is a pain point that companies like Amazon (with their Echo Look smart speaker/hands-free camera) and StitchFix are working to alleviate by enlisting the help of machine learning.

Think of it as sort of the Stacy London of algorithms. Lines of code (combined with some human stylists for guidance) dressing us in inoffensive, flattering sweater sets  that become increasingly attuned to your personal taste over time. All of this is built on continuous streams of data gathered from the user and what passes for chic in the world of fashion. Convenient, non? 

StitchFix’s single-use algorithm aside, the invasive nature of personal assistants like Alexa pose a pretty apparent privacy issue. Not only do consumers sometimes report Alexa turning on randomly—a potentially more dangerous prospect now that she has an eye—but there are also questions around Amazon’s intent as a company. In a February 2017 interview published by Billboard between Stephen Witt and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the idea of Alexa as an in-home “cash register” was posed. Bezos waved the notion away, stating that “Alexa is primarily about identifying tasks in the household that would be improved by voice.” But with a recently filed patent for a fully automated “on-demand” apparel factory under Amazon’s ever expanding corporate belt, the idea of Alexa’s true purpose being anything beyond a personal cash register seems unclear.

This level of invasive marketing and loss of privacy presents as a lot to hand over for the luxury of an extra 15 minutes, and in the case of Echo, a hands-free Boomerang of your #OOTD. Perhaps privacy doesn’t mean anything to anyone anymore. As the tin-foil hat wearers among us decry, we already walk around with smartphones in our pockets and publish our lives on social media. If privacy is a distant memory at this point, what is our next unintentional sacrifice? Probably every day bouts of human creativity.

 When you intentionally style yourself, you have to use some amount of creative thought in the process. Studies have shown that intentional dress can actually imbue your whole day with a more expansive level of creative thought. By removing those tiny moments of individual imagination, you are removing what for many people is an important statement of pure self-expression and a potentially beneficial element in expansive creativity.

Benefits in the office aside, dressing oneself is so intensely personal. A good outfit, in one’s own estimation, can imbue a person with all the confidence of an early 2000s Paris Hilton. In my own highly experimental sartorial journey, some of my favorite outfits were the ones that just made me laugh. With their volume, color clashing, overt ridiculousness. They weren’t flattering, and they certainly weren’t vetted for likeability by a machine.

The excitement surrounding this emerging technology is palpable. And it’s generating a lot of what time will deem useless products. But in the wake of all this hype, I would hope that we as humans would take concerted steps not to lose every aspect of our humanity to the god of mechanized convenience. The creative thought process, even on an action as seemingly inconsequential a level as picking out your own outfit, doesn’t need to be given over to Silicon Valley’s quest towards efficiency.

We’ve already let so much of our privacy and personal effort slip away at this point; let’s not give away the small moments of human creativity, too. Though with mechanized stylists already on the market, maybe all we can hope for is that our robotic assistants don’t eventually turn into a super judgey, hyper chic version of Skynet. Because as someone who has made more than her fair share of questionable sartorial decisions, I don’t need critiques coming from my appliances, too.

-Rachel Siemens