A Robot's Gender

Many articles are dedicated these days to a necessary refocus of the feminist movements that we have partly sidelined in the past two decades. In the last century, every time the economy has been shaken, whether by war or speculation, women have conquered a space that was resisting them. Factories in the forties, board rooms in the eighties… The possibility that such access has ultimately not been favorable to women themselves has surfaced from time to time, not only by chauvinistic standards, but also from the feminist side. The euphoria of the superwoman myth, embodied in the Barbie that fed the dreams to the girls who grew up as a "Cosmopolitan generation", has produced a hangover in which we begin to hear voices that criticise that status of apparent satisfaction. The perverted motto "girls can do everything" has resulted in a "do it all at once", a situation which is as unfair and disproportionate as the previous “you can do nothing".

The truth is that the labour world has never been a party, although any club is appealing if there is a queue waiting outside the door. Of course there have been many benefits from the changing role of women, and surely we would not be talking about new vital options if women had not been able to access spaces that were once forbidden (even if so many still remain). However, the question in my head does not have to do with the “what” but with the “when”.

One of my most motivating teachers, the geographer Aurora García Ballesteros, told me once that all the effort of taking a society/organisation from stage A to a more advanced stage B, is used by those who were at point B to reach a new level C. Thus, like poor Achilles behind the turtle, we will never reach those ahead of us. Why do we not use all this effort to forget phase B and move straight from A to C, she wondered. This way, in a reasonable period of time we could be marching along with our models, and at their same pace. It is an approach that may sound naive (like almost any question that proposes a profound transformation, by the way). That is why I want to apply it to a specific moment, our present time, in which the new feminist impulse is contemporary to the advance of a fourth industrial revolution based on artificial intelligence and robotics, that is, in an economy that steps into dehumanisation, either by elimination (Individuals cease to participate in processes) or by dissolution (individuals are reabsorbed by a massive networked intelligence).

Why then continue striving to balance a situation that in a not very distant future is expected to change completely? Why remain focused on reducing the differences between men and women when the next radical division will be established between the human and the non-humans? It reminds me of the situation of the Westeros kingdoms in Game of Thrones: fighting without quarter, weakening themselves while the true enemy awaits on the other side of the wall for the upcoming winter. History (even fictional) does not repeat itself, but rhymes, as Mark Twain said. My suspicion is that feminism has become one of those great causes for which western democrats feel proud to mobilise, now that it has been ethically and aesthetically polished. It is like a battle that is already won but we cannot avoid fighting, and that distracts us -outsiders from the real power- of changes that will be a ‘fait accompli’ when we finally start paying attention to them.

I fear that we have been desiring the equality of the sexes for so many years that even having not achieved them, it may become a placebo, to stop us from asking questions about the gender of robots.

The immense Isaac Asimov began his stories of the series "I, Robot" with the first and most crucial premise for public acceptance: Robbie, the babysitting robot. If we could entrust our children to the machines, what could not we entrust to them? In spite of the iconography and the context of the time of that story (the fifties of Marilyn and Doris Day) that nanny robot did not present any trait or detail that could be identified as female. Gender, Asimov told us, was a matter of humans, almost an insignificant matter, as robots will match us all. The question that we should focus on now is whether they will do it from the up- or the downside, because that is the future in which both men and women will surely meet.



Communication Strategist and Presentation Specialist