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>

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