The Week Unwrapped: Sri Lanka, second homes and Siri

Is Sri Lanka’s latest crisis a warning for the rest of the world? Are second-home owners facing a revolt in Cornwall? And why do most digital assistants have women’s voices?

The Week and Arion McNicoll, sitting in for Olly Mann, delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

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Sri Lankan turmoil

A long period of unrest came to a head this week in Sri Lanka, when violent protests led to a 36-hour curfew and the declaration of the public emergency which closed down social media and messaging apps and allowed police to arrest people without a warrant. The resulting backlash included the resignation of the entire cabinet on Sunday, but the turmoil and protests continue and the crisis is still having a significant effect on daily life. International experts have suggested that the combination of Covid and rising fuel and food prices which lie behind the unrest could cause similar problems elsewhere.

Digital assistants

It was reported this week that £860,000 of taxpayers’ money is being used to fund three projects exploring the gender bias of digital assistants. Some researchers believe gadgets like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – which have the default voice of a young woman – reinforce stereotypes about women being subservient and well suited to secretarial duties. But why do so many of these devices have female personas – and, as the UK faces an extraordinary cost of living crisis, should we really be spending nearly £1m to determine whether Siri is sexist?

Second homes

Tensions between Cornish locals and owners of second-homes in the county have risen in recent weeks as prohibitive house prices and a lack of available properties mean many locals are being priced out of the area. Campaigners are calling for urgent amends to legislation to address the county’s growing housing crisis. But does more need to be done?

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