Gendered AI: Gender and Goodness

The Gendered AI series looks at sci-fi movies and television to see how Hollywood treats AI of different gender presentations. For example, do female-presenting AIs get different bodies than male-presenting AIs? (Yes.) Are female AIs more subservient? (No.) What genders are the masters of AI? This particular post is about gender and goodness. If you haven’t read the series intro, related goodness distributions, or correlations 101 posts, I recommend you read them first. As always, check out the live Google sheet for the most recent data.

n.b. If you’re looking at the live sheet, you may note it says “alignment” rather than “goodness” in the dropdown and sheets. Sorry about the D&D roots showing. But by this, I mean a rough, highly debatable scale of saintliness to villainy.

Gender and goodness

What do we see when we look at the correlations of gender and level of goodness? There are three big trends.

  1. The aggregate picture shows a tendency for female-presenting AI’s to be closer to neutral, rather than extreme.
  2. It shows a tendency for male-presenting AI’s to be very good, or very evil.
  3. It shows a slight tendency for nonbinary-presenting AI to be slightly evil, but not full-bore.

When we look into the detailed chart, some additional trends appear.

  • Biologicially- and bodily-presenting female AI tends toward somewhat evil, but not very evil.
  • Socially female (voice or pronouns, only) tend toward neutral.
  • Gender-less AI spike at somewhat evil.
  • Genderfluid characters (noting that this occurs mostly as a tool of deception) spike at very evil, like, say, Skynet.
  • AIs showing multiple genders tend toward neutral, like Star Trek TOS’s Exo III androids, or somewhat evil, like Mudd’s androids.
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Gendered AI: Gender and AI category

The Gendered AI series looks at sci-fi movies and television to see how Hollywood treats AI of different gender presentations. For example, are female AIs generally shown as smarter than male AIs? Are certain AI genders more subservient? What genders are the masters of AI? This particular post is about gender and category of intelligence. If you haven’t read the series intro, related category distributions, or correlations 101 posts, I recommend you read them first. As always, check out the live Google sheet for the most recent data.

What do we see when we look at the correlations of gender and level of intelligence? First up, the overly-binary chart, and what it tells us.

Gender and AI Category

You’ll recall that levels of AI are one of the following…

  • Super: Super-human command of facts, predictions, reasoning, and learning. Technological gods on earth.
  • General: Human-like, able to learn arbitrary new domains to human-like limits
  • Narrow: Very smart in a limited domain, but unable to learn arbitrary new domains.

The relationships are clear even if the numbers are smallish.

  • When AI characters are of a human-like intelligence, they are more likely to present gender.
  • When AI characters are either superintelligent or only displaying narrow intelligence, they are less likely to present gender.
  • My feminist side is happy that superintelligences are more often female and other than male, but it’s also such small numbers that it could be noise.

If you check the details in the Sheet, you’ll see the detailed numbers don’t reveal any more intense counterbalancing underneath the wan aggregate numbers.

Gendered AI: Pride March Edition

Chris: I posted a question on Twitter, “Other than that SNL skit, have there been queer sci-fi AI in television or movies?” Among the responses is this awesome one from Terence Eden, where he compiled the answers and wrote a whole blog post about it. The following is slightly-modified from the original post on his blog. Consider this a parade of sci-fi AI, to help you nerds celebrate Pride.


Terence: Let’s first define what we mean by queer. This usually means outside of binary gender and/or someone who is attracted to the same sex—what’s commonly referred to as LGBT+. Feel free to supply your own definition.

As for what we mean by AI, let’s go with “mechanical or non-biological autonomous being.” That’s probably wide enough—but do please suggest better definitions.

So is a gay/lesbian robot one who is attracted to other robots? Or to humans with a similar gender? Let’s go with yes to all of the above.

Wait. Do robots have gender?

Humans love categorising things – especially inanimate objects. Some languages divide every noun into male a female. Why? Humans gonna human.

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Gendered AI: Gender and Subservience

The Gendered AI series looks at sci-fi movies and television to see how Hollywood treats AI of different gender presentations. For example, are female AIs given a certain type of body more than male AIs? Are certain AI genders more subservient? What genders are the masters of AI? This particular post is about gender and subservience. If you haven’t read the series intro, related subservience distributions, or correlations 101 posts, I recommend you read them first. As always, check out the live Google sheet for the most recent data.


Recall from the distributions post that subservience is cruder than we would like. Part of what we’re interested in is the social subservience: specifically whether female-presenting AI more often demur or take a deferential, submissive tone. The measurements I show here are more coarse than that, because the nuanced measurements are very open to debate, and can change over the course of a show. What I felt confident about tagging was first free-willed vs. subservient; and then, for those that had to obey a master, whether they could only act as instructed (slavish), whether they seemed to register and resist their servitude (reluctant) or not (improvisational). Still, even with the crude metric, there’s stuff to see.

What do we see when we look at the correlations of gender and subservience? First up, the trinary chart, and what it tells us.

Chart, gender and subservience. Freewilled: Female 0.61%. Other -4.1%. Male 3.5%. Improvisational: Female -0.04%. Other 3.36%. Male -3.32%. Reluctant: Female 0.59%. Other -0.64%. Male 0.05%. Slavish: -1.15%. Other: 1.38%. Male -0.23%.

The numbers are small here, at a max of 4.1% away from perfect, but we can still note the differences.

  • If it is free-willed, it is slightly more likely to be male than female, and male much more than other.
  • If it has a master, but free to improvise actions within constraints and orders, it is more likely to be other than male: ungendered (the majority), multi-gendered, or genderfluid.
  • Female-presenting AI do not appear to have significant disproportions of subservience. Those pink bars are all pretty small, all hovering near perfect distribution, and the one place they’re not, that is, slavish obedience, they’re less represented. Those characters tend to have a machine embodiment and therefore no gender, but it still means there is no bias toward or against female-presenting AIs in this correlation.
A graphic stating “In (screen-based) sci-fi AI…” male is free-will. Machine is subservience.

Now this probably breaks your gut sense of what you’ve seen in shows. What about Ex Machina! What about Maria! What about Ship’s computer in Star Trek? What about…? I’m not sure what to tell you, as these results thwart my expectations as well. But these are the numbers. It may just be that those examples of subservient female sci-fi AIs stand out for us more, given oppressive norms in the real world.

There’s not a lot more to be pulled from the detailed view of the data, either.

A chart of corellations with more-detailed gender breakdown. Because the large amount of numbers would be tedious, listen to the following summary for the takeaways. More detail available on request.

Note that the examples of characters with reluctant obedience to a master are dominated by the unfortunate, neurocloned crew of the U.S.S. Callister from Black Mirror. (Each of whom are reluctantly subservient.) Other than that example, there are three female-presenting characters and one male-presenting character. We would have more confidence in the results with a bigger sample size.

A picture of the main cast of the Black Mirror episode “USS Caliister.”
What is Space Fleet? I’ll tell you what it is. It is a belief system founded on the very best of human nature. It is a goal for us to strive towards for the betterment of the universe, for the betterment of life itself. And you assholes are fucking it up. </irony>