By Katherine Cross

Would a true artificial intelligence, a sapient artificial lifeform, have a gender identity? Ask this of almost anyone and, regardless of their politics or background, they’ll give a firm “no”. Why should an AI have a gender at all? Surely, it’s regressive to suggest such a thing. To some, it goes against the biological purpose of gender.

On Quora, that font of crowdsourced hearsay and supposition, two men answered the question: “Would a truly artificial intelligent entity be genderless?” with repeated references to biology.

“Gender comes from a biological need for two organisms of different gender to have a sexual relationship to reproduce and sustain their species. When a species uses sex to reproduce, that species will have 2 genders,” wrote the first.

“Male and female are defined by what’s sticking out, or not. The only reason that part exists is because we need to reproduce. That’s why bacteria don’t have genders because they don’t need to reproduce,” added the second.

Neither seems to understand that the reason bacteria doesn’t have gender is because bacteria doesn’t think. (Each fellow could certainly stand to meditate on this fundamental kinship they share with our microscopic friends, but I digress.) Aside from the elementary error of confounding sex and gender—crudely, sex is biology, gender is the meaning we assign to that biology and to certain cultural practices—they also believe that gender exists only for facilitating reproduction. If AI can’t boink (yet another assumption, by the by), then it has no need for gender. Continue reading