Let’s get this straight Fembots Dominate in the emerging field of AL. Is the reason sex? Well check it out. It started with Apple’s iPhone assistant Siri and we’re seeing it once again with Japan’s first robot-staffed hotel—when it comes to artificial intelligence systems, a disproportionate percentage have female personas. The natural question is: why?
“I think there is a pattern here,” Karl Fredric MacDorman, a computer scientist and expert in human-computer interaction told reporters at LiveScience. “But I don’t know that there’s one easy answer.”
One assumption is that female artificial intelligence and androids are performing jobs that have traditionally been associated with women. Many of these machines have been programmed to act as personal assistants, maids, or guides.
Another reason? These machines are primarily being designed by men—who have a natural draw to women.
“I think men find women attractive, and women are also OK dealing with women,” MacDorman notes.
That seems to align with the story of Siri, at the very list. In Norse, the name Siri means “a beautiful woman who leads you to victory.” The default voice is a female persona known as Samantha. Today, Siri’s voice now comes in male or female form and can be set to a number of different languages—but the default is still Samantha.
MacDorman has seen first-hand in his own studies how men and women react to the voices of different genders. In one study, he and his colleagues played clips of male and female voices and asked people to identify which voice they preferred. The test measured their subconscious preferences. The men in the study reported that they preferred the female voices, but had no implicit preference for them. Women in the study implicitly preferred female voices to male ones, though they didn’t always report it.
“I think there’s a stigma for males to prefer males, but there isn’t a stigma for females to prefer females,” MacDorman said.
But does this research apply when it goes beyond the voice and to humanoid robots?
“When it comes to a disembodied voice, the chances of it being female are probably slightly higher than of it being male,” Kathleen Richardson, a social anthropologist and author on the topic, told LiveScience. “But when it comes to making something fully humanoid, it’s almost always male.”
Of course, when humanoid robots are female, they tend to be modeled after attractive young women.
Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese roboticist, has designed some of the world’s most advanced androids. Repilee R1 was based on his 5-year-old daughter, for example. Repilee Q1Expo was modeled after Ayako Fujii, a female news announcer at Japan’s public broadcasting organization. In a recent project, Ishiguro developed a series of “Actroid” robots for the world’s first robot-staffed hotel. The droids resemble young Japanese women, and will action attendants, waitresses, cleaners, and cloakroom attendants.
So does this preference have a bigger implication for society? Richardson certainly thinks so.
“I think that probably reflects what some men think about women—that they’re not fully human beings,” she told LiveScience. “What’s necessary about them can be replicated, but when it comes to more sophisticated robots, they have to be male.”
Richardson also thinks that having female robots could be based on the fact that they are perceived as being less threatening as men. The same goes for childlike robots.