Nobel Prize-winning economist Sir Christopher Pissarides caused a stir during a recent panel discussion at the 2017 Starmus astronomy festival by claiming that Apple's digital assistant, Siri, is more trustworthy with a male voice.
Update: Starmus has issued a statement addressing the "sexist comments" which is included below.
The comment caused outrage at the event in Trondheim, Norway, with fellow panel-member and famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also receiving criticism for failing to immediately condemn the ill-judged comment.
A video showing the controversial incident appeared on Twitter following the Q&A session held on Wednesday (21 June).
The footage (embedded below) shows Pissarides, who won the Nobel Prize in 2010, asking Siri about the weather before awkwardly holding the wrong end of the iPhone up to his ear to try and hear the iOS assistant's response.
American TV host Larry King, who moderated the panel, then mentions that the US version of Siri is voiced by a woman. At which point Pissarides responds: "I chose a man, because you trust the voice of a man more I was told."
The response drew jeers from the crowd and a slightly bemused reaction from King. Later on, during the Q&A section, an audience question from astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter drove the knife into Pissarides and deGrasse Tyson, accusing the former of "piss[ing] off half the world's population" and criticising the latter for not "jumping on him."
The Q&A panel titled "108 minutes : The World on Fire" was also populated by filmmaker Oliver Stone, cybersecurity expert Eugene Kaspersky, and economist Finn Kydland.
As a result of the comment and an overall backlash to the male-dominated panel selections throughout the fourth annual Starmus Festival, a number of attendees and leading figures in the scientific community spoke out and, in some cases, decided to leave the show.
Physicist Jim Al-Khalili noted in a Twitter post that he left the "poor" panel following the comment, while astrobiologist Sara Seager said she was in the process of "book[ing] the next flight out of #Starmus."
"My criticism on Twitter referred to a particular comment by a male panellist who made a highly sexist remark that was not picked up by moderator Larry King and should have been," Al-Khalili told Motherboard in an email.
"Starmus is a unique festival of science and music," he continued "Last year, [we] all acknowledged that there was a marked lack of women invited speakers and to a large extent this was addressed this year."
"Starmus deeply regrets the sexist comments made by Chris Pissardes during a panel discussion and we accept the outrage that this has sparked," a Starmus spokesperson said (also via Motherboard).
"Our programme consists of incredible women and men from all over the world and we have made it clear that comments of this nature will not be tolerated at our festival. Our sole mission is to communicate science to the public at large, recruiting the world's leading scientists regardless of gender."
The gender and accent of Apple's voice assistant across iPhone, iPad, Mac and other Apple devices has historically been dependent on regional settings, however recent software updates have allowed users to change both the gender and accent via a menu.