Gendered AI: Gender and Embodiment

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 embodiment. If you haven’t read the series intro, related embodiment 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 embodiment? First up, the overly-binary chart, and what it tells us.

I see three big takeaways.

  1. When AI appears indistinguishable from human, it is female significantly more often than male. When AI presents as female, it is much more likely to be embodied as indistinguishable from a human than an anthropomorphic or mechanical robot. Hollywood likes its female-presenting AIs to be human-like.
  2. Anthropomorphic robots are more likely to be male than female. Hollywood likes its male-presenting AIs to be anthropomorphic robots.
  3. If an AI is mechanical, it is more likely to be “other.” (Having no gender, multiple genders, or genderfluid.)

These first two biases make me think of the longstanding male-gaze popular-culture trope that pairs a conventionally-attractive female character with a conventionally-unattractive male. (Called “Ugly Guy Hot Wife” on TV Tropes.)

Image result for walle and eve

Recent research from Denmark hints that these may be the most engaging forms to engage children (and adults?) in the audience: learning outcomes in a study of VR teachers found that girls learn best from a young, female-presenting researcher, and boys learned best when that teacher presented as a drone. The study did not venture a hypothesis as to why this is, or whether this is desirable. These were the only two options tested with the students, so much more work is needed to test what combinations of presentation, embodiment, and superpowers (the drone hovered) are the most effective. And we still have to discuss the ethics and possible long-term effects of such tailoring. But still, interesting in light of this finding.

Left: best teacher embodiment for boys. Right: best teacher embodiment for girls.

Not a surprise

  1. When AI is indistinguishable from human, it is less likely to have a gender other than male or female.
  2. If an AI presents with no gender, it is embodied as a mechanical robot. Little surprise there.
  3. Mechanical robots are more likely to be neither male nor female.

Details

When we look more closely at the numbers, it gets a little weirder. This makes for a very complicated graph, so I’ll use a screen grab from the sheets as the image.

  • Of course we would not expect many socially gendered characters to be indistinguishable from a human, but you’ll note that socially male is much higher than socially female, and that’s because while there are no characters that are both [socially female + indistinguishable from human], there is one tagged [socially male + indistinguishable from human], and that’s Ruk, from Star Trek (the original Series) episode “What are Little Girls Made of?”
  • Bucking other trends toward male-ness, [disembodied + female-voiced] AI are 8 times as likely to appear as disembodied, male-voiced AI, of which there is only one example, JARVIS from the MCU.
    1. FRIDAY from Avengers: Age of Ultron
    2. Coach from Black Mirror’s “Hang the DJ”
    3. Samantha from Her (though she manages to procure a proxy for one awkward scene)
    4. VIKI from I, Robot (though she has a virtual face)
    5. Gipsy Danger, Pacific Rim
    6. Sibyl, from Psycho-pass: The Movie
    7. Karen from Spider-Man: Homecoming
    8. Axiom from WALL·E

So while the counts involved are single digit, it is a notable difference.

Hmm.
Advertisements

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>

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.

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.

Still from Metropolis. A sexy female robot.

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.

A lesbian robo kiss from Bjork’s music video All is Full of Love.

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.

Kryten and Camille Kissing.
Fun fact: Camille and Kryten are played by real-life wife and husband Judy Pascoe and Robert Llewelyn!

C-3P0—another British campbot—is arguably in love with R2-D2. Whether or not that love is reciprocated is hard to say.

Two robots embracing.

Threepio and Artoo may behave like an old married couple, but the astromech has a lens for the ladies.

(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.)

In the “extended universe” of Transformers (outside of movies and television), there are a few gay Autobots and gay Decepticons.

Image result for Airazor and Tigatron
Tigatron and Airazor. They even kind of had a baby.
File:TAAO1 KnockOutBreakdown.jpg
Knock Out and Breakdown.

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.

“You might want to sterilize that.”

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.

Two lady robots lay entwined with a bloke in red sheets.

TV show Humans has one of the robots fall in love with a human.

Two women holding hands.

The Bisexual (maybe?) Float

Is Rachael from Blade Runner a robot, or bisexual?

Clearly, yes.

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.

Unfortunately she has no embodiment, but maybe we can hook her up to the loudspeakers.

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.

Meanwhile, Holly, the increasingly erratic Red Dwarf computer, performs a head sex change operation on himself. He bases his new face on Hilly, a female computer with whom he'd once fallen madly in love.

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 Element floor 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!