Male and Female Robots

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Male and Female Robots

Postby Carleas » Fri Apr 12, 2019 10:03 pm

Robots and artificial intelligences (both real and fictional) are often assigned a sexual identity: C3PO is male. Data is male. Cortana is female. Alexa and Siri are female. TASbot is male.

If sex is purely a biological fact, then this use of sex in relation to non-biological entities must be incorrect. Siri and Alexa do not have bodies, much less genitals. Interestingly, Data's genitals are actually established in canon, though we might ask if he is any more male than a realistic dildo; he is modeled after a male human and provides sexual companionship for a female-presenting human fictional character, but we also know, from canon, that he is not biological, has no chromosomes, cannot reproduce sexually or feel emotions, etc. Indeed, any fictional character, who by definition exists only in the minds of its creators and audience, must be held to have no sex, and statements like "Han Solo is a man" must be literally false.

In the alternative, we might grant that "Han Solo is a man" can be meaningful, that Han Solo has a fictional biology, despite his genitals and genetics never having been depicted or described in relevant canon. But then it seems we would be giving the lie to the initial claim: Han Solo's sex has nothing to do with his fictional genitals, on which canon is silent, and everything to do with his social role, which is roughly the whole of his character. Similarly, Data is male because he is socially male; despite that his morphology is canonically synthetic, he is made to appear and act male. Likewise, female robots are expected to be socially female, despite being abiological. Some have questioned the validity or appropriateness of maintaining these social roles by assigning sex to the non-biological entities (e.g. in the context of the 'subservient woman' digital assistants). Nonetheless, this use of sex is part of the meaning of sex in society, it's recognized and accepted, and has nothing to do with biology.

The use of sex in fiction, and in relation to clearly non-biological person-like entities, suggests that the position that sex is entirely dictated by biology must be false. In fact, there is a meaningful use of sex that is abiological, that is related to social roles rather than genetic facts. There is an accepted sense in which Alexa is a woman, and Data and Han Solo are men. This is a common and non-controversial use of the concept of sex, and it has nothing to do with biology.
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Carleas
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Re: Male and Female Robots

Postby Karpel Tunnel » Fri Apr 12, 2019 10:43 pm

Carleas wrote:The use of sex in fiction, and in relation to clearly non-biological person-like entities, suggests that the position that sex is entirely dictated by biology must be false.
Wouldn't using fictional creatures and how some people think about them lead to a different kind of conclusion? Something like: some people think/act like, when experiencing fictional characters (some non-biological) that sex is not entirely dictated by personality.
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Re: Male and Female Robots

Postby Carleas » Sat Apr 13, 2019 1:43 pm

I think the example of fiction and non-biological entities present a dichotomy: either 2) Alexa and Siri are not female, and that's wrong to use female pronouns when referring to them, and we should denounce this misuse of sex pronouns in relation to them as strongly as we denounce any other misuse of sex pronouns, or 2) social sex is not actually necessarily tied to biology, and it's appropriate to assign a social sex to something that is not biologically that sex.

I think my actual motive is probably clear: to defend the use of social sex pronouns to refer to people who choose to present as a social sex that doesn't align with their biological sex, and to show that this use of social sex is already a part of language and the concept of sex.

But presenting it as a dichotomy does show why it should not be surprising that trans and radical feminist perspectives could come into conflict. The social use of sex implies that sex dictates social roles: a perspective that accepts transsexuality must also accept that there are distinct social and even mental sexes, and that 'treating someone like a woman' and 'treating someone like a man' are and should be meaningfully different. The other side of the dichotomy is to reject the latter claim, and reject the use of female social identity as applied to robots and virtual assistants as reinforcing sexual stereotypes and the status quo of sexual stereotypes.

Because we do in fact use language this way, I would argue that we implicitly already accept the former. But I'm sympathetic to the latter arguments that perhaps we shouldn't. That said, consistency does not seem to permit a middle ground.
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Re: Male and Female Robots

Postby Karpel Tunnel » Sat Apr 13, 2019 1:53 pm

Carleas wrote:I think my actual motive is probably clear: to defend the use of social sex pronouns to refer to people who choose to present as a social sex that doesn't align with their biological sex, and to show that this use of social sex is already a part of language and the concept of sex.

But presenting it as a dichotomy does show why it should not be surprising that trans and radical feminist perspectives could come into conflict. The social use of sex implies that sex dictates social roles: a perspective that accepts transsexuality must also accept that there are distinct social and even mental sexes, and that 'treating someone like a woman' and 'treating someone like a man' are and should be meaningfully different. The other side of the dichotomy is to reject the latter claim, and reject the use of female social identity as applied to robots and virtual assistants as reinforcing sexual stereotypes and the status quo of sexual stereotypes.
Yes, this tension is rarely mentioned by the Left as a whole. Which is a shame since it means that a very complicated X, is treated as if it was morally and philosophically clear. And I do understand, for example, Martina Navratilova, a lesbian feminist, saying that there are problems with people with the power of men's bodies coming into, for example, women's tennis.
Because we do in fact use language this way, I would argue that we implicitly already accept the former. But I'm sympathetic to the latter arguments that perhaps we shouldn't. That said, consistency does not seem to permit a middle ground.
Just to muddy the water a bit: brain studies have shown that transpersons' brains show similarities to the brains of the sex they were not born as. IOW their biology does in fact support, to a degree, their sense that they are not their birth gender.
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Re: Male and Female Robots

Postby Carleas » Mon Apr 15, 2019 1:59 pm

I'm not sure what to make of those studies. I have seen them presented as evidence that such a difference is innate, but learning shapes the brain too, and I'm not sure how we could distinguish between observed differences that are generated by nature vs. those generated by nurture. I would expect two people who train at the piano for a similar amount of time over the course of their lives to have some similar brain structures related to that task (even if we picked them randomly and independent of talent or desire). Similarly, two people who spend similar amounts of time emulating men and fantasizing about the man they will be (as I think both transmen and regular men must in adolescence) could have some similar brain structures devoted to the task.

Do you know if the results have replicated in cross-cultural studies? If we see similar structural differences in cultures with different social sex roles, that would support the idea that it's innate. To be honest, I'm not familiar enough with the literature to know how reliably the differences in structure are found within biological/chromosomal sexes, so I'm not sure how big an effect we even need to explain. Intuitively, a smaller effect would be easier to explain through similar learning/thinking patterns.
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