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.
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.
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.
TV show Humans has one of the robots fall in love with a human.
The Bisexual (maybe?) Float
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 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!