Gendered AI: AI Picks Female

Where we are in this series: I just finished showing how AI in sci-fi presents gender, what bodies it is given, how subservient it is, the gender presentation of the masters of AI, how germane the gender of the AI was to the plot of the stories in which they appear, how good or evil those AIs were, and what category of AI they seemed to be. Next up we’re going to look at the correlations of those distributions to gender, but first a fun fact from the survey.

There are all of three AI characters who elect their gender presentation for some reason other than deception.

1In “The Offspring” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data builds an adult child named Lal. Data gives Lal the opportunity to pick their gender, and Lal picks female.

2Holly, the AI in Red Dwarf begins presenting male and after a bit reveals that she would rather present as female. Later, she is destroyed and rebuilt from an earlier copy, when the AI presents as male again, but notably, this was not Holly’s decision.

3The Machine, from Person of Interest (shout-out: it won the award for best representation of the AI science in the Untold AI series, and a personal favorite) chooses in the last season to adopt the voice of its main devotee, Root, who is female.

Image result for root person of interest
The Machine is never directly embodied in the series, but here’s a pic of Root.

Though this is a very small sample inside our dataset, it is notable in light the male bias that AI characters show, by these examples,…

when an AI chooses a gender presentation, it is always a female.

Not quite “picking a gender”

There are a handful of other times an AI winds up with a gender presentation that can not quite be said to be a matter of personal preference.

  • If you’re wondering about the Maschinenmensch from Metropolis, its gender is not a choice, but something assigned to it by the mad scientist Rotwang as part of a plot of deception.
  • If you’re thinking of Skynet, from the Terminator series, it has no presenting gender until Terminator Salvation. In that film the AI chooses to mimic a female character, Dr. Kogan, because “Calculations confirm Serena Kogan’s face is the easiest for [Marcus] to process.” It assures him that if he preferred someone different, Skynet could mimic another person. So this is not picking gender for an identity reason as much as a mask for efficacy.
  • Later in Terminator Genisys, Skynet is embodied as a man, the T-5000 known as “Alex,” but this appears to be the opportunistic colonization of an available body rather than a selection by the AI.
  • The Puppet Master from Ghost in the Shell is similarly an opportunistic colonization of a female cyborg. There might be some selection process in the choice of a victim, but that evidence is not on screen.
  • In Futurama, Bender has also opted several times to be female, but it is for the express purpose of getting something out of the deal, such as competing in the Robo-Olympics or to play a heel character in wrestling. By the end of each episode, he’s back to being his old self again.

If you know of additional or even counterexamples, let me know so I can add them to the database. But as of right now, the AI future looks female.

Advertisements

Gendered AI: Category of Intelligence

Where we are: To talk about how sci-fi AI attributes correlate, we first have to understand how their attributes are distributed.  In the first distribution post, I presented the foundational distributions for sex and gender presentation across sci-fi AI. Today we’ll discuss categorically how intelligent the AI appears to be.

As always, you can read the Gendered AI posts in order or check out the source data for more information.

Intelligence

AI literature distinguishes between three levels.

  • Narrow AI is smart but only in a very limited domain and cannot use its knowledge in one domain to build intelligence in novel domains. The Spider Tank from Ghost in the Shell in narrow AI.
  • General AI is human-like its knowledge, memory, thinking, learning. Aida from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. possesses a general intelligence.
  • Super AI is inhumanly smart, outthinking and outlearning us by orders of magnitude. Deep Thought from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a super AI.

The overwhelming majority of sci-fi AI displays a general intelligence.

Gendered AI: Goodness Distributions

Where we are: To talk about how sci-fi AI attributes correlate, we first have to understand how their attributes are distributed.  In the first distribution post, I presented the foundational distributions for sex and gender presentation across sci-fi AI. Today we’ll discuss goodness.

As always, you can read the Gendered AI posts in order or check out the source data for more information.

Goodness vs. Evilness

Goodness is a very crude estimation of how good or evil the AI seems to be. It’s wholly subjective, and as such it’s only useful patterns rather than ethical precision.

If you’re looking at the Google Sheet, note that I originally called it “alignment” because of old D&D vocabulary, but honestly it does not map well to that system at all.

  • Very good are AI characters that seem virtuous and whose motivations are altruistic. Wall·E is very good.
  • Somewhat good are characters who lean good, but whose goodness may be inherited from their master, or whose behavior occasionally is self-serving or other-damaging. JARVIS from Iron Man is somewhat good.
  • Neutral or mixed characters may be true to their principles but hostile to members of outgroups; or exhibit roughly-equal variations in motivations, care for others, and effects. Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is neutral.
  • Somewhat evil characters are characters who lean evil, but whose evil may be inherited from their master, or whose behavior is occasionally altruistic or nurturing. A character who must obey another is limited to somewhat evil. David from Prometheus is somewhat evil.
  • Very evil are AI characters whose motivations are highly self-serving or destructive. Skynet from The Terminator series is very evil, given that whole multiple-time-traveling-attempts-at-genocide thing.

Though slightly more evil than good, it’s a roughly even split in the survey between evil, good, and neutral AI characters.

Gendered AI: Germane-ness Distributions

Where we are: To talk about how sci-fi AI attributes correlate, we first have to understand how their attributes are distributed.  In the first distribution post, I presented the foundational distributions for sex and gender presentation across sci-fi AI. Today we’ll discuss how germane the AI character’s gender is germane to the plot of the story in which they appear.

As always, you can read the Gendered AI posts in order or check out the source data for more information.

Germane-ness

Is the AI character’s gender germane to the plot? This aspect was tagged to test the question of whether characters are by default male, and only made female when there is some narrative reason for it. (Which would be shitty and objectifying.) To answer such a question we would first need to identify those characters that seemed to have the gender they do, and look at the sex ratio of what remains.

Example: A human is in love with an AI. This human is heteroromantic and male, so the AI “needs” to be female. (Samantha in Her by Spike Jonze, pictured below).

If we bypass examples like this, i.e. of characters that “need” a particular gender, the gender of those remaining ought to be, by exclusion, arbitrary. This set could be any gender. But what we see is far from arbitrary.

Before I get to the chart, two notes. First, let me say, I’m aware it’s a charged statement to say that any character’s gender is not germane. Given modern identity and gender politics, every character’s gender (or lack of, in the case of AI) is of interest to us, with this study being a fine and at-hand example. So to be clear, what I mean by not germane is that it is not germane to the plot. The gender could have been switched and say, only pronouns in the dialogue would need to change. This was tagged in three ways.

  • Not: Where the gender could be changed and the plot not affected at all. The gender of the AI vending machines in Red Dwarf is listed as not germane.
  • Slightly: Where there is a reason for the gender, such as having a romantic or sexual relation with another character who is interested in the gender of their partners. It is tagged as slightly germane if, with a few other changes in the narrative, a swap is possible. For instance, in the movie Her, you could change the OS to male, and by switching Theodore to a non-heterosexual male or a non-homosexual woman, the plot would work just fine. You’d just have to change the name to Him and make all the Powerpuff Girl fans needlessly giddy.
  • Highly: Where the plot would not work if the character was another sex or gender. Rachel gave birth between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Barring some new rule for the diegesis, this could not have happened if she was male, nor (spoiler) would she have died in childbirth, so 2049 could not have happened the way it did.

Second, note that this category went through a sea-change as I developed the study. At first, for instance, I tagged the Stepford Wives as Highly Germane, since the story is about forced gender roles of married women. My thinking was that historically, husbands have been the oppressors of wives far more than the other way around, so to change their gender is to invert the theme entirely. But I later let go of this attachment to purity of theme, since movies can be made about edge cases and even deplorable themes. My approval of their theme is immaterial.

So, the chart. Given those criteria, the gender of characters is not germane the overwhelming majority of the time.

At the time of writing, there are only six characters that are tagged as highly germane, four of which involve biological acts of reproduction. (And it would really only take a few lines of dialogue hinting at biotech to overcome this.)

  • XEM
  • A baby? But we’re both women.
  • HIR
  • Yes, but we’re machines, and not bound by the rules of humanity.
  • HIR lays her hand on XEM’s stomach.
  • HIR’s hand glows.
  • XEM looks at HIR in surprise.
  • XEM
  • I’m pregnant!

Anyway, here are the four breeders.

  • David from Uncanny
  • Rachel from Blade Runner (who is revealed to have made a baby with Deckard in the sequel Blade Runner 2049)
  • Deckard from Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049
  • Proteus IV from the disturbing Demon Seed

The last two highly germane are cases where a robot was given a gender in order to mimic a particular living person, and in each case that person is a woman.

  1. Maria from Metropolis
  2. Buffybot from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I admit that I am only, say, 51% confident in tagging these as highly germane, since you could change the original character’s gender. But since this is such a small percentage of the total, and would not affect the original question of a “default” gender either way, I didn’t stress too much about finding some ironclad way to resolve this.


Gendered AI: Subservience and free will

Where we are: To talk about how sci-fi AI attributes correlate, we first have to understand how their attributes are distributed.  In the first distribution post, I presented the foundational distributions for sex and gender presentation across sci-fi AI. Today we’ll discuss subservience and free will.

As always, you can read the Gendered AI posts in order or check out the source data for more information.

Subservience/Free will

The degree of free-willedness is tagged as subservience.

  • The majority of AIs are free-willed, that is, answerable only to their own conscience. Ultron from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is free-willed.
  • A large proportion answer to some master, but enjoy a wide berth in interpreting instructions, and can formulate new plans to achieve goals. There are tagged improvisational obedience. Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of these.
  • A few are tagged as slavish obedience, and will take no action unless ordered to do so and will only take the action instructed. Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet is slavishly obedient.
  • A small minority are bound to a master against their will. These characters are tagged with reluctant obedience. Ava from Ex Machina was only reluctantly obedient, and took great pains to escape.

Reinforcing the notion that from embodiment, the subservience of AI is the exception for these characters. Mostly they are as free-willed as people are. (Insert determinist counter-argument here.)

Gendered AI: Gender of master

Where we are: To talk about how sci-fi AI attributes correlate, we first have to understand how their attributes are distributed.  In the first distribution post, I presented the foundational distributions for sex and gender presentation across sci-fi AI. Today we’ll discuss the gender of the AI’s master.

As always, you can read the Gendered AI posts in order or check out the source data for more information.

Gender of Master

In the prior post I shared the distributions for subservience. And while most sci-fi AI are free-willed, what about the rest? Those poor digital souls who are compelled to obey someone, someones, or some thing? What is the gender of their master?

Of course this becomes much more interesting when later we see the correlation against the gender of the AI, but the distribution is also interesting in and of itself. The gender options of this variable are the same as the options for the gender of the AI character, but the master may not be AI.

Before we get to the breakdown, this bears some notes, because the question of master is more complicated than it might first seem.

  • If a character is listed as free-willed, I set their master as N/A (Not Applicable). This may ring false in some cases. For example, the characters in Westworld can be shut down with near-field command signals, so they kind of have “masters.” But, if you asked the character themselves, they are completely free-willed and would smash those near-field signals to bits, given the chance. N/A is not shown in this chart because masterlessness does not make sense when looking at masters.
  • Similarly, there are AI characters listed as free-willed but whose “job” entails obedience to some superior; like BB-8 in the Star Wars diegesis, who is an astromech droid, and must obey a pilot. But since BB-8 is free to rebel and quit his job if he wants to, he is listed as free-willed and therefore has a master of N/A.
  • If a character had an obedience directive like, “obey humans,” the gender of the master is tagged as “Multiple.” Because Multiple would not help us understand a gender bias, it is not shown on the chart.
  • The Terminator robots were a tough call, since in the movies in which most of them appear, Skynet is their master, and it does not gain a gender until Terminator Salvation, when it appears on screen as a female. Later it infects a human body that is male in Terminator Genisys. Ultimately I tagged these characters as having a master of the gender particular to their movie. Up to Salvation it’s None. In Salvation it’s female, and in Genisys it’s male.

So, with those notes, here is the distribution. It’s another sausagefest.

Again, we see the masters are highly skewed male. This doesn’t distinguish between human male and AI male, which partly accounts for the high biologically male value compared to male. Note that sex ratios in Hollywood tend towards 2:1 male:female for actors, generally. So the 12:1 (aggregating sex) that we see here cannot be written off as a matter inherited from available roles. Hollywood tells us that men are masters.

The 12:1 sex ratio cannot be written off as a matter inherited from available roles. It’s something more.

Oh, and it’s not a mistake in the data, there are no socially female AI characters who are masters of another AI of any gender presentation. That leaves us with 5 female masters, countable on one hand, and the first two can be dismissed as a technicality, since these were identities adopted by Skynet as a matter of convenience.

  1. Skynet-as-Kogan is master of John, the T-3000, from Terminator Genisys
  2. Skynet-as-Kogan is master of the T-5000 from Terminator Genisys
  3. Barbarella is master of Alphy from Barbarella
  4. VIKI is master of the NS-5 robots from I, Robot
  5. Martha is master of Ash in Black Mirror, “Be Right Back”

Gendered AI: Embodiment

Where we are: To talk about how sci-fi AI attributes correlate, we first have to understand how their attributes are distributed.  In the first distribution post, I presented the foundational distributions for sex and gender presentation across sci-fi AI. Today we’ll discuss embodiment.

As always, you can read the Gendered AI posts in order or check out the source data for more information.

Embodiment

Another simple measurement is how the AIs are embodied. That is, how to they manifest in the world of the story (or diegesis): Are they walking around, appearing as a screen on a wall, or as pulsing stars in the cosmos?

The categories that emerged from the survey were as follows:

  • Virtual, where a character only had, for example, a body or face that was generated for presentation to other characters on a screen or via volumetric projection. Joi from Blade Runner 2049 is virtual.
  • Disembodied, if the AI doesn’t have a particular, or an ad-hoc embodiment. The Machine from Person of Interest is disembodied.
  • Edgar from Electric Dreams is a Personal computer. In this regard, Edgar is a sui generis, or a category containing only one example.
  • Architectural: Some AIs are stuck to the walls of a building. HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey is architectural.
  • Vehicular, where a character is embodied in a vehicle of some sort. K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider is vehicular.
  • Zoomorphic robot, where the robot is built to look something like an animal. Often these characters do not have voice. Muffit from the original Battlestar Galactica television series is an example.
  • Mechanical robot, where the robot is mechanical (and more mechanical looking than humanoid looking). WALL·E is mechanical.
  • Anthropomorphic robot, where the robot is proportioned like a human, and has most all the surface features of a human, but is readily identifiable as a robot. The Iron Giant is anthropomorphic.
  • Indistinguishable from human, where the robot can “pass” as a human. Only detailed or violent inspection will reveal it to be non-human. Aida from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is indistinguishable from humans.

Here’s what that looks like in a bar chart.

Sometimes the details are tricksy

Sci-fi can make these things tricky. For example, the virtual crewmembers of the U.S.S. Callister might be considered indistinguishable from humans—as long as they are wearing clothes. Their unfortunate captain (and captor) had them created in virtual space such that they had no genitals. They are listed as bodily male and bodily female (rather than biologically) even though they are also indistinguishable from human.

Similarly, David from Prometheus has a fingerprint with a subtle Weyland-Yutani logo maker’s mark built into it (see the image below), but since this would only be apparent to someone who knew exactly where to look and for what, David is also listed as indistinguishable from human.

He just has to find crimes that don’t involve fingerprints.

Why so human?

My conjecture to explain the high number of AIs that indistinguishable from human is threefold.

First, it is a matter of production convenience—that is, it is much easier and cheaper to insert a line of dialogue that establishes a character as a human-looking robot, rather than any of the other ways of signaling robotic-ness:

  • Create a costume like Robbie the Robot
  • Make a puppet like Teddy from A.I. Artificial Intelligence
  • Do prosthetic makeup like The Terminator
  • Create a set piece that syncs with audio like Alphy from Barbarella
  • Produce special effects, like Ava from Ex Machina

There’s also a fit-to-media argument which notes that people are much better and more comfortable at reading the emotional states of people than they are of machines. If catharsis, or the emotional journey, is part of what the art is about, humans work as a medium. (This lack of emotional information in interfaces was played to great effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey, unnerving us with the psychopathy of HAL’s unblinking eye.) Actors, too (I highly suspect) enjoy using their bodies, voices, and faces to do their jobs without the additional layers of prosthetics or puppetry. So we would expect an overweighting of indistinguishable from humans because they are often the best tools for the narrative job, from both the audience’s and the actor’s perspective.

Not a lot of emotive potential here.

There’s another argument—a genre-and-narrative argument—that people are mostly interested in stories about people, and most sci-fi is a speculation about social effects rather than actual technology, and so indistinguishable robots are the best embodiment of what we’re interested in, anyway. Humans, just with different rules.

To riff on Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s “what if phones but too much”…

  • What if humans, but smarter and faster and helpful?
  • What if humans, but relentless indestructible assassins?
  • What if humans, but their enslavement was “ok”?
  • What if humans, but too much?

Gendered AI: Gender Presentation and Distributions in sci-fi AI

In the first post of this series, I explained what I was out to learn, what I looked at, and how I tagged it. Ultimately, we want to look at the data and be able to answer questions like “Are female AIs more subservient than male AIs?” And in order to do that, we first have to understand what the distributions are for sex and subservience. So let’s talk distributions.

Distribution is a fancy term for how many of each value we see for a given attribute. For example, if we wanted to look at the distribution of eye color across the world, we would count how many browns, blues, hazels, ambers, green, gray, and reds that we see, (finding a way to deal with heterochromia, etc.) and compare them in a bar chart.

Of course eye color is not of interest in this case. For Gendered AI, we are interested in comparing other attributes to gender presentation. We’ll look at the other attributes in later posts, but we’re going to begin with sex ratio, and that will fill up a post all its own.

Simple sex ratio

Author’s request: With that section title I know some hackles are already raised. Please know this is very tough space to write for. Despite having paid for a number of paid content reviews, I may have made some missteps. I am a n00b writer on these topics, and I respond best to friendly engagement rather than a digital pillory.

The very simple explanation of sex ratio is women-to-men. But of course that’s waaaaay too simple for either the real world or our purposes. At the very (very) least, AI might have no gender, so we need a “none” or “other” category. Let’s start with these very oversimplified numbers and move to more detailed later.

The chart shown below shows the data from the survey focusing on simple categories of female, other, and male. The chart shows that AI characters are strongly overweighted male, with a rough ratio of 2 male : 1 female : 0.75 other. The 2:1 M:F ratio is eerily in line with USC Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory’s finding where speaking roles in 1000 scripts they studied, men’s dialogue, and even the number of characters was double (or over) that for women. This is greatly different than the real-world sex ratios of 1:1 as reported in the Wikipedia article about world sex ratios.

I would talk about the weird discrepancies of just this distribution, but any ranting at this point would be overshadowed by the ranting that happens next. Deep breath.

Continue reading

Gendered AI, initial results

Men are machines. Women are bodies.
Male is extreme. Women are nuance.
General AI has gender. Other AI does not.
Male is free-will. Machine is subservience.
Male is default. Women when it’s necessary.

At least in screen sci-fi.

Let me explain.

In November of 2018, a tweet thread between Chris Geison and Kathy Baxter called my attention to questions about the gender of AI in sci-fi. Baxter noted that most AI is male, and how female AI is often quite subservient or sexualized. In this thread, Gieson added Cathy Pearl’s observation that embodied AI is often female and male is more often disembodied and regarded as a peer.

I already had a “database” (read: Google Sheet) of AI in screen sci-fi from Untold AI, my 2018 study of the stories screen sci-fi doesn’t tell, but should. So, I thought I could provide some formal analysis to this Gendered AI discussion. To that end I’ve added around 325 AI characters to the Google Sheet, and run some analyses. This series of posts will break it all down for you.

Image result for r2d2 hologram
Oh, we’ll come back to this little “guy.”

Now, it can get a little dry to talk about percentages and comparisons and distributions, so I’m going to do my best to keep tying things back to the shows and the characters and the upshot of all this analysis. But the way we get to that upshot is through the numbers, so stick with me. For this first post, I’m going to share what I captured, and what counts as an AI character for purposes of this study.

The following is true in the survey as of 08 APR 2019. The live data, available in Google Sheets, may be updated from this.

Continue reading