May. 30th, 2015

talkswithwind: (meditation)
Will an artificial intelligence have gender in any way?

In my opinion, that depends on how the AI comes about. Broadly, there are three routes to this:
  1. Hothouse AI, modeled after human intelligence. Hothouse here means built in an AI-lab somewhere, specifically to be an intelligence.
  2. Hothouse AI, built from components.
  3. Emergent AI, arising naturally from the technosphere.
The first two are being actively researched, the third is theorized and one we hope doesn't happen because we're pretty sure BAD THINGS will then happen. To us puny humans, that is; everything from SkyNet genocide to incarnations of trickster gods, it's bad for us.

When I'm talking about, 'having gender', I mean the AI considers itself to have one. I'm not talking about presentational gender.

Hothouse AI, modeled after human intelligence
This type of AI takes a look at how humans think, and attempts to bring about AI by modelling on the single known sentient system we have. If it worked once, maybe we can make it happen again! It's all neural nets and other things, including information ingestion as an analog of human learning.

This type of AI is most likely to decide that it has gender. It's based on a human model, and all of the information it is ingesting about how sentient beings interact is also marinated in the concept. This is especially true if the researchers self-select the information set using their own cultural biases.

This type of AI would also probably be gender fluid. At some point it may very well decide that since it is not human, the human concept of gender doesn't apply, and therefore it doesn't have one. QED. Or it may decide it liked the other one better for some reason and sticks with it as a better, or more convenient fit.

Hothouse AI, built from components.
This approach differs from the other mode because it is trying to get to sentience from a generalized model of cognition. This model includes animal models from animals we know think in sophisticated ways. The idea is that once we know the theory of thought, we're more likely to get it with the simulation systems we have available to us now. This also learns through information assimilation, though the information set is probably wider.

This is less likely to have a sense of self gender, but it still will probably come about. It may very well stay in agender/other and select presentational genders based on circumstances.

Emergent AI, arising naturally from the technosphere
This type of AI shows up on its own, and we might not even recognize it when it happens. Are the cells in our liver aware of the higher thinking going on? Probably not. Once we notice it, there will be a lot of hot air spent on deciding if it is actually intelligent or merely clever. That's the problem with the field of intelligence, we only have a few examples of it so we don't know the full solution space yet.

Would it have gender? I have to theorize that generally these intelligences would not have an internal sense of gender. To have a sense of gender that humans would recognize as as sense of gender, it needs to have thinking processes that we recognize as sufficiently human to assign human attributes to it. I suggest that any gender we detect in such an AI is almost definitely a presentational gender picked on purpose.

This is the alien problem that SF writers have been wresting with since the beginning of scary-aliens. If you make the aliens different enough, they're not relatable as characters to a majority of readers. Unrelatable aliens are monsters. Relatable aliens can be either.

From a story-telling perspective, a great way to build will-they/won't-they tension about an AI is to make it a relatable alien. Put that alien in a body modeled after an object of desire (such as a fembot) and you add on all sorts of cultural modifiers to create tension. Because really, due to default masculinity in our culture a male-voiced bot could be either masculine or agender, and there is always a threat of violence when men are involved. By putting it in a female-voiced/shaped body, the violence, if it comes, is therefore more shocking.

It is entirely unsurprising to me that fembots or female-avatared AIs are so common in fiction. Are they SkyNet, or some new-person just looking to belong? That kind of story has more cultural punch if the assumptions based on presentation gender make the SkyNet option seem transgressive. You just don't expect that of women.

Why fembots? Because sexism.



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