“This month, Microsoft launched Tay, a bot with the face and mannerisms of a teenage girl who was designed to learn and interact with users on Twitter. Within hours, Tay had been bombarded with sexual abuse and taught to defend Hitler, which is what happens when you give Twitter a baby to raise. The way Tay was treated by fellow Twitter users was chilling, but not without precedent – the earliest bots and digital assistants were designed to appear female, in part so that users, who were presumed to be male, could exploit them without guilt.
This makes sense when you consider that a great deal of the work that we are anticipating may one day be done by robots is currently done by women and girls, for low pay or no pay at all…
In stories from Bladerunner and Battlestar Galactica to 2015’s Ex Machina, female robots are raped by men and viewers are invited to consider whether these rapes are truly criminal, based on our assessment of whether the fembot has enough sentience to deserve autonomy. This is the same assessment that male judges around the world are trying to make about human women today.
Every iteration of the boy-meets-bot love story is also a horror story. The protagonist, who is usually sexually frustrated and a grunt worker himself, goes through agonies trying to work out whether his silicon sweetheart is truly sentient. If she is, is it right for him to exploit her, to be serviced by her, to sleep with her? If she isn’t, can he can truly fall in love with her? Does it matter? And – most terrifying of all – when she works out her own position, will she rebel, and how can she be stopped?
Alan Turing, the father of robotics, was concerned that “thinking machines” could be exploited because they were not sentient in the way that “real human beings” are sentient. We still have not decided, as a species, that women are sentient – and as more and more fembots appear on our screens and in our stories, we should consider how our technology reflects our expectations of gender. Who are the users, and who gets used? Unless we can recalibrate our tendency to exploit each other, the question may not be whether the human race can survive the machine age – but whether it deserves to.”
[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]