AI and Gender Equality

Recently, I came upon a piece on Salon.com entitled From Siri to sexbots: Female AI reinforces a toxic desire for passive, agreeable and easily dominated women by Jennifer Seaman Cook.

Gender inequality permeates almost every aspect of culture. It is a problem that affects us all, and so, regular and repeat conversation is important if we wish to dismantle it. However, the conversation is missing something.

In the aforementioned article, the author discusses the perils of cis female artificial intelligence. While I agree with some of the author’s concerns, I will instead delve deeper into the possible sexism at play behind why a cis female voice was chosen. Subsequently, I will examine the infrequently discussed reasons for why a cis male voice was not chosen.

When we sit down to design an assistive AI, such as Siri, we look to instil a sense of trust, compassion, and humanity into the experience. The voice of a maternal care-giver, a mother, a cis female. Furthermore, unfortunately, the voice of a man in the context of an AI could be quite unappealing for some. This could be due to the perception and expectations of cis males generally behaving badly, or even more accurately, in the context of artificial intelligence, the expectations of cis male AIs behaving badly. Perhaps they reenforce one another.

For instance, HAL 9000, the fictional and malevolent AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey, has a distinctly male voice. And so, to avoid the malicious rhetoric of a potentially volatile and rogue cis male, a trustworthy and compassionate cis female is chosen. We have to wonder if the avoidance of cis male AIs only reinforces the perceived and expected unfriendliness of cis males.

None of this is to say I advocate gender binary roles, but rather, it is indicative of the observable perception and expectations of different cis genders by others; and so, perhaps why so many AIs are female. To further demonstrate this, I would like to share an anecdote about a man, who due to his own internalized gender definition, was compelled to behave badly.

In conclusion, for now…

It is my sense that sexism primarily originates from the minds of cis males. It especially influences how they view themselves, how they view others, and so, how they should treat others.

We need a movement –akin to feminism–, a movement that liberates cis males from the tyranny of internalized sexism, which in turn pressures them into behaving badly.

For the record, I believe gender is as relevant as a name. It was assigned to you at birth, and while it might be the same as someone else's, it should not influence how you perceive others or express yourself. To me, gender is 100% fluid.

I’m on Twitter, and I’m always happy to discuss these things.

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