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, 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.

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