Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Loncon: The Gendered AI

It's late but I'm jazzed from good conversation and think I can quickly make this presentable before I go to bed.


Strictly speaking, there's no reason an artificial intelligence should express gender in human terms (or at all). Yet in much recent film and TV -- such as WALL-E, Her, Person of Interest, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Caprica -- gender and/or sexuality has been integral to the vision of AI. How have such portrayals affected what stories are told? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What would it mean to imagine a genderless AI -- or a queer AI?

Charlie Jane Anders, Abigail Nussbaum, Nic Clarke, Michael Morelli,Jed Hartman

Nic: reviewer, watched all the programs being discussed

Jed: former fiction editor for Strange Horizons, now consumes media; fascinated by gender for long time

Mike: Masters student, giving paper on sexuality in Banks tomorrow, feminist literary critic

Abigail: blogger & reviewer, Reviews editor at SH, writes lot about film & TV from feminist perspective

Charlie Jane: writer, blogger at io9, including AIs in some of work (including one forthcoming resolutely ungendered one)

Charlie Jane: usually fictional AIs are created by humans (in the fiction, I think? or creators of overall fiction?): is gender an imposed limit by the creators or a mark of human-ization/sentience?

Abigail: absolutely latter, cites babies & first (problematic) question, "What is it?" Have very hard time seeing humanity if can't ascribe gender. _Her_, main character buys AI interface for mobile device, first question asked is male or female voice

Jed: can see particularly well in _Wall-E_, where don't have strong indication of robots but very easy to assume that box-like + deeper voice = male & curvy one that carries life inside her, with female name = female (would be interesting if Wall-E was butch lesbian name!)

Nic: not sure Wall-E is very butch character! Interested in AIs forming relationships with humans and humans assuming that need gender to form relationships. Root & the Machine in _Person of Interest_ (only one who seems to see Machine as female); _Her_: creators struggling with genderless relationship.

Abigail: Root very interesting example, views Machine as a god and refers to as woman, immediately changes audience's perception, starts to become more & more persuasive (to see Machine as female) even though nothing has changed

Jed: _Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_: AI referred to by all male characters as Mike, female character (the only one?) calls the AI Michelle and AI's presentation shifts entirely to very "girly" (my summary)--plenty to complain about in that passage but interesting take on things

Charlie Jane: relationship with humans leads to question of embodied v. disembodied

(My note to self here: Mercedes Lackey's entry in McCaffrey's _Ship Who_ series has brainship (person with profound physical disabilities is encased in spaceship which becomes their body and which they run with their brain) choosing to spend a very lot of money in order to get a physical avatar that can have sex with the guy she's fallen in love with; at least one other brainship in the series has romantic relationship without embodying self)

Abigail: _Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles_: took Terminator who'd been played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in two films (was by woman in third, which series erases, but not feminine in any way, very similar demeanor to (I think) Robert Patrick's character in 2d film). Series puts Terminator in body of teenage girl, Summer Glau, petite, delicate, sometimes very graceful, killing machine whose demeanor still not entirely human. Deliberate choice to make potential love interest for young John Connor, and everyone in show views her as a seductress. Scene at end of second season where asks John to fix something in her body, filmed exactly in same way as a sex scene. Human body + not human = sexuality present but also threat (I think).

Mike: female bodies automatically tag robots as seductress

Charlie Jane: goes back to _Metropolis_

Mike: default robot ungendered or male, very problematic binarism that gendered female = seductress. Wall-E exception, Eve much more capable.

Nic: but when Eve becomes symbolically pregnant, becomes silent and immobile and is dragged around by Wall-E

Mike: wow, hadn't noticed before

Abigail: (corrected:) _Battlestar: Galatica_ example: first scene in miniseries, characters are expecting big boxy robots, get tall sexy woman in red dress who kisses & then kills: could not make this any more obvious

Jed: also thread of traditionally-female professions, Rosie on Jetsons

Charlie Jane: _Caprica_ example interesting, has female AI derived from human female put into boxy robot with male voice

Abigail: but does end up in similar direction, meets young scientist online, reveals that is robot, he freaks out and she accidentally kills him

Charlie Jane: (gives examples, including Data, which is only one I caught) what's it about, all the child-like male-identified robots?

Nic: more generally about AI as blank slate?

Abigail: Data does have a daughter, depicted as childlike and not very sexual, one scene she tries to explore sexuality kind of treated as a joke. But AIs trying to explore humanity, does seem to be more body. _Extant_ (Halle Berry's new show) has creepy robot played by child actor from _Looper_ (obviously attempt to suggest going to turn on everyone, because that actor just has that kind of face)

Nic: thinks that Uncanny Valley effect stronger with children, some of child robots seem really creepy; just me? Maybe because wiser than children should be?

(audience says: quieter than supposed to be)

audience: curious that think AI is human: think of house in _He, She and It_, car in _Nightrider_

Charlie Jane: _Eureka_ had house that was AI

Abigail: which gets married to male-looking robot

(Here I made a note to myself, which read: isn't there some awful Hugo story about female house robots? And I found it in my archives: “Bernardo’s House,” by James Patrick Kelly, which posits a future where successful men keep houses as mistresses. It doesn't seem to be online any more. My 2004 self didn't hate it, so "awful" may be too strong, or maybe I would hate it now, I don't know.)

Jed: distinction between gender identity and gender presentation. Don't often see AIs giving strong indication that they feel they have a gender.

Charlie Jane: back to idea that AI gender is for interfacing with humans

Abigail: many AIs talking about, role is servant role, not coincidence presented as women

Nic: Jarvis in _Iron Man_: meant to be more intelligent

Mike: Jarvis is butler not cook. _Her_, next question after gender of voice is "what was relationship like with your mother," reboots and takes caretaker role

Mike con't: if robot/AI gendered physically, would like to see trans robot

Charlie Jane: _Caprica_ example, when see from her perspective, sees self as teenage girl. Father abuses her to show that she's his daughter. Very violent and disturbing.

Abigail: scene more interesting than the abuse: before father realizes daughter is in robot, brings to Board to convince to keep funding project, wants robot to act human or at least sentient. Scene cuts between the robot and the girl, tiny actress trying to be menacing and confrontational, much more a sense of how being in this body changed way thought about self.

Jed: interesting that we see the robot body as male, because big and strong looking

Charlie Jane: male voice

Abigail: electronic voice that is more male than female

audience: character asks friend if appears male or female and friend says male

Charlie Jane: idea of class and how it intersects with gender here

Abigail: from start been meant to be class commentary, word means "servant" in Hungarian (coined by Čapek, in _Metropolis_ sex worker Maria coded as lower-class

Nic: been talking about bespoke robots for rich people, individual interactions not robots as class, what does this say?

(digression about Jarvis that I missed)

Charlie Jane: _Blake's Seven_, first 3 seasons all robots are very posh, in fourth enslave AI who starts groveling, to show that they've come down in the world

Nic: _Red Dwarf_, robot somewhat feminized, subservient role (is this Kryten?)

(someone) Marvin, _Hitchhiker's Guide_

Mike: Holly, _Red Dwarf_, portrayed by (male?) actor, one day someone wakes up and says "Holly! You're a girl!" and then there's no change in behavior, just image showed on screen (did I follow this properly? The wifi's gone to hell again and it's getting late so I'm trying to minimize Googling)

Abigail: going back to servant thing, interaction between fiction & reality: Samantha from _Her_ clearly Siri; Microsoft named theirs after character in _Halo_ (who is weirdly sexualized)

Nic: which gets into _Portal_

Charlie Jane: yes, what about all the recent creepy women?

(corrected) Abigail: GladOS is 100% Uncanny Valley, corrupted woman, everyone she says is about "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed." Totally a disappointed mom is who homicidal. Don't think coincidence that so scary and so popular.

(someone) how fits into with Howl? (I don't recognize this reference and may have misheard it.)

Nic: similar voice, sing-sing-y. Kevin Spacey's AI in _Moon_, plays off expectation that AI is going to to crazy, but trying to subvert that trope, pathos resides in AI (bigger spoilers elided)

Charlie Jane: so many Star Trek episodes have evil computer, ungendered or male; Doctor Who in early 60s, again ungendered or male (helpful ones are female?)

Nic: sign of progress, that women can be evil too?

audience: original Alien film, computer was called Mother

Charlie Jane: sexuality and reproduction, is part of how imagine interfacing with AIs that we're going to have sex with them, and in some sense we reproduce?

(I sort of thought it was taken for granted that people would use this kind of tech for porn, just as most other forms of tech? Or do I just have a low mind?)

Abigail: one of reasons _Her_ doesn't work for me, conceives of Samantha's sexuality entirely in human terms, has phone sex with protag and says feels her body, what body? Willing to believe can experience sexuality on own terms, not human terms

Mike: but that's first experience, eventually has relationships with AIs and they all transcend in what seems rather like an orgy; feel like moves away from example of human sexuality

Nic: yes, also have problems with that, but favorite bit when tell protagonist that been simultaneously talking with 600 other people, undercutting perceived emotional exclusivity/intimacy

Abigail: would expect her sexuality to be completely alien

Charlie Jane: requests Marvin Paranoid Android / Samantha fanvid

Jed to Abigail: but willing to accept her having human emotions?

Abigail: that's how film chooses frame the question, don't think that's limitation we should be putting, and think at end film recognizes, chooses non-verbal communication because verbal too limiting, etc.

Nic: heading to idea that gender part of humans limiting AI

Abigail: bit in Culture books, AIs running ships sometimes embody themselves but don't consider those bodies to be themselves; _Surface Detail_ playing with that sexual tension but doesn't conclude in relationship because AI is so much bigger, wouldn't be meaningful

Mike: Culture is good way to step into genderless, all Minds request to be "it"; use avatars only because it makes humans more comfortable (are the avatars gendered?)

(Note at time: ugh, I just realized I gendered the Minds all male in my head anyway, bad Kate, no biscuit)

Mike con't: _Ancillary Justice_, AI can't recognize culturally-determined gender

audience: talking about sexuality as control of AI; depressed elevators in _Hitchhiker's Guide_, in clear response Stross's _Saturn's Children_ gives elevator sexual gratification to keep from being depressed

(Note at time: that is SO CREEPY

Abigail: isn't something like that in _HG_ too?

everyone: doors that go mmmm

Charlie Jane: what would sexual gratification be like?

Jed: well, how does AI experience any emotions?

Abigail: yes, but pleasure has physiological and evolutionary purpose, can separate from emotions

Charlie Jane: maybe like a power surge or something

audience: Machine Dynasty series by Ashby: robots start as children (grow up), created to satisfy pedophiles, programmed with deep desire to please humanity

Charlie Jane: "We Robots," published by Aqueduct (Sue Lange), humans are afraid of robot uprising so program them to have pain response

Nic: robot as worker and controlled, either way

Abigail: two motivators of most mammals; again, not saying impossible to have AI feel, but has to be designed in

audience: do think when assign gender, pleasure, pain, is that part of bigger tendency to assign personalities?

Abigail: goes back to Culture example where refuse gender but have personalities

Mike: would be too other otherwise, authors can't conceive and/or readers can't follow

audience: wondering if would address how treat robots now; workers that I know that work with them (assembly lines), don't ever gender them (but Roombas or PCs do)--looks to them like centered around class thing, less anthropomorphization for worker robots

Abigail: Čapek, Asimov: thought robots had to have personality no matter what job; Data oddly retro in that regard because so tied to human form; Enterprise computer is AI, no-one talks about. Took genre while to realize that could have robots that weren't anthropomorphized and didn't have personality. Idea about object as personality comes in with personal computer phase--Macs were friendly.

(is asked for story about airplane voices)

Abigail: was told that AIs have female voices because airplane industry started giving female voices to computers in cockpits, on assumption that pilots would be male and wanted to cut through the din, only woman who could speak is a machine

Nic: Roombas = pet

audience: class dimension, Industrial Revolution robot not having personality (didn't catch all of this)

audience: TARDIS, Gaiman more than anyone sexualized her

other audience: TARDIS is an AI but doesn't communicate and motives are unclear

Jed: long tradition of ships being "her"

audience: is there a story about a machine who wants to change gender?

other audience: webcomic called O Human Star, missed explanation but fits

Jed: going back to identity v. presentation, doesn't think really ever told much about AI's internal identity, would like to see more of that

Charlie Jane: trope in Japanese anime, robots that form larger robots, how interesting if had different gender identities from larger robot

Abigail: talk about a AI orgy!

audience: (something) self-replicating robot societies with gender as consequence (written by Ballantine, Wolf?)

other audience: _Lexx_, 790 is robot that insists is female but gendered male, which is unfortunately treated as joke, comes across as gay

audience: _Small World_ creepy child with apron, put there to help women fulfill role as mother, plus Halle Berry new show (_Extant_)

various people about movie _AI_: robot child as substitute for human child in coma to help grieving mother, really not explored

audience: goes back Frankenstein, when male assumes role of female in creating new life

Charlie Jane: _Pinnochio_

Charlie Jane con't: race. _Almost Human_, buddy cop relationship where black guy is robot "with soul", very sexualized, ridiculously so in episodes saw

Abigail: drawing blank thinking of robots with non-white bodies

audience suggests that trying to avoid slave association

other audience did watch all _Almost Human_ & thought that theme was that robot was better human than Urban, but admits that did really sexualize, didn't notice before

audience: _Andromeda_: all ships have personalities with avatar; two avatars played by POC (one Christopher Judge, Teal'C on _SG:1_, so more special guest star)

audience: learned neurological biases toward gender: if industrial robot had to speak to you, if did not hear male or female voice, wouldn't sound right

Jed: think that can be computer voices that aren't gendered to him

Charlie Jane: agrees

(Me: can we train selves out of this? Can't imagine why not.)

Nic: about social expectations about who does what jobs

audience: if could change anything about how AI gender is represented now, what would be?

Mike: "Don't." Unless for narrative's sake--integral to _Her_.

Abigail: would like to see stories in which humans gender AI and then AI points out that this isn't me

Jed: yes, that, and good to have more genderless AIs, also want more complexity and thoughtfulness generally

Nic: more broadly like to see more presentations of AIs more focused on disconnect between human perceptions and essential alienness of the AI

Charlie Jane: like to see more agency in how AIs get a gender, instead of humans imposing from beginning, as get more complex decide for selves how want to represent (very widely, not just gender)

Abigail: like bit in _ST:NG_ where Data creates another android, in temporary body, as part of its development has to choose species as well as gender

Jed: don't think ever seen genderqueer or genderfluid AI

audience: _Questionable Content_ that has AI in otherwise mundane environment, backstory has AIs making own choices

audience: what gender is R2-D2?

Abigail: male, mainly because way C3PO interacts, based on two male peasants in Japanese film

Charlie Jane: always think as Laurel and Hardy

Nic: little yappy dog

Jed: gay male couple

Abigail: very nearly explicit

audience: and has little protruding . . . (everyone laughs)

audience: if AI kept changing gender moment-to-moment, would we be creeped out?

Nic: some people are (in relation to genderfluid people, I think), who are "wrong people"

Abigail: goes back to class, if to serve then we would react or if person in own right then not our business

audience: Jane in Ender's series, evolved and morphs into lot of characters

Mike: a lot of SFF creates scenarios to explore fears and quiet them, so would like to see that kind of actively genderfluid AI

Jed: can do this experiment on own, if have Siri, switch between male & female voices several times a day

audience: Enthiran, Indian film: male Indian scientist creates robot that realizes that need to understand emotion to act in human society and needs to have to understand, reason why needs to understand is very culturally constructed, so gender roles would be too

audience: cyborgs, _Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex_, Major Kusanagi, female cyborg, asked why didn't install self in male body (something I missed, but defeats other who asks, I think)

So this was fun! If I've mis-identified anything let me know.

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Tags: cons: worldcon: 2014 (loncon 3), gender, sff

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