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.
The aggregate picture shows a tendency for female-presenting AI’s to be closer to neutral, rather than extreme.
It shows a tendency for male-presenting AI’s to be very good, or very evil.
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.
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.
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.
The television is female in French —“la télévision”—but masculine in German—“der Fernseher.” Stupid humans and their pathetic meaty brains. Nevertheless, humans can usually look at a human-ish thing and assign it a specific gender.
Maschinenmensch, from Metropolis, is a gynoid (as distinct from an android). “She” has a feminine body shape and that’s enough for most people to go on.
HAL from 2001 is just a disembodied voice. But it definitely has a male voice. Is there any attraction between HAL and Dave? I doubt it, but it’s an interesting reading of their toxic relationship.
Editor’s note: The whole Gendered AI series is predicated on the question of gender in sci-fi AI, so if you’re interested in this question, have I got a series for you…
Wait. Do Robots have sexuality?
Did we mention that humans love categorizing everything? Just like we can speak of the gender presentation, robots with a General AI can have romantic affection for other beings, and depending on their equipment and their definitions of sex, yes, get it on. Even by narrow human common definitions of gender and sexuality, (TV, movies, and comic book) sci-fi has a dozen or so examples that can populate our imaginary AI pride parade.
The Robosexual Float
Kryten from Red Dwarf is an AI that receives a human body. Kryten coded as male. All the characters refer to him with male pronouns. Under British comedy rules, he is also “camp,” an over-the-top and stereotypically effeminate man. Kryten is sexually attracted to household appliances.
But… Kryten’s “perfect mate” is a distinctly female Gynoid, so he’s something other than straight, something other than appliance-sexual.
C-3P0—another British campbot—is arguably in love with R2-D2. Whether or not that love is reciprocated is hard to say.
(I say “ladies,” but for the record let’s note that just because a robot is pink, wearing bobby socks, and a high heels, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a girl. If you’re looking for a pink R2 unit that is expressly a girl, check out the real-world KT-10 robot.)
And of course there’s no denying that a few of the Futurama bots have tastes that veer from the straight and narrow. Notably we can point to that one time Hedonismbot stole Bender’s antenna and used it for “anything and everything,” said while in a sex dungeon surrounded by couples of every stripe who are getting it on.
The “Robots attracted to humans of the same sex” float
There are several examples of “female” computers falling in love with male humans, a handful of male robots with female human lovers, and a disturbing number of sex-worker bots, but it is much harder to find queer examples of any of these.
The Tick show has a superhero named Overkill whose sidekick is an AI named Danger Boat that is, yes, housed in a boat. (Hat tip to Twitter user @FakeUnicode.) The AI identifies as male and is expressly attracted to other men, specifically The Tick’s (human) sidekick Arthur.
Is Danger Boat programmed to be gay? Are his desires hardwired? Are yours?
Remember Alien: Resurrection? Winona Ryder played the robot “Call” who has a suggestive relationship with Ripley. As this ship video demonstrates.
Battlestar Galactica has some demonstrably bisexual Cylons. They are sexually compatible and interested in humans and other Cylons.
Is Rachael from Blade Runner a robot, or bisexual?
How about Samantha from Her? Late in the movie she reveals to Theodore that she’s having intimate conversations with 621 other humans. Some portion of them must have turned romantic and even sexual, as hers did with Theodore himself. The genders aren’t mentioned, but the odds are that 51% of them are female.
The Transexual Float
This float only has one robot, (the poorly-named) Hermaphrobot from Futurama, but she is sassy and awesome and assuring us that we couldn’t afford it. (And apologies for the insulting title added by the person who uploaded this video.) We are wholly unsure of Hermaphrobot’s sexuality, but we welcome our transexual robot brothers and sisters and others all and the same.
The GenderFluid Float
It’s possible for you to swap the gender of your Voice Assistant in real life. Your GPS can have a male voice one day, and you can swap it to female the next. There’s only one example of a sci-fi AI that swaps gender.
It takes us back to Red Dwarf again. In the series 3 opener “Backwards” it is revealed that Holly (a computer with a male face) fell in love with Hilly (a computer with a female face). And subsequently performed a head sex change. Although she kept the name Holly.
What is awesome and instructive is that the entire crew of Red Dwarf accept this. They never comment on it, nor disparage her. Basically, what I’m saying is this: if you can’t accept your trans and non-binary friends, you’re literally a worse human than Arnold Judas Rimmer, the worst human in the Red Dwarf universe.
Oh, look, and here comes The Fifth Elementfloor sweeping robots, picking up all the glitter and source code left on the ground by the crowd, marking the end of the AI Pride parade. Happy Pride to everyone, silicon or not!
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.
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.
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.
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.