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As a western society with fairly traditional views, England as a whole has moderately outdated views on what gender is as a concept (Woods 1995). Even with progressive views speaking of non-binary people or trans people; there is still some element of binary or even a linear spectrum. When realistically gender is a performance, which yes, we already know. So how do we begin to break this down in the future?
Technology, maybe? I guess? If we can program a being to have no preconceptions of gender, sex, or its implications, how will it differ¹? What does it mean to be truly genderless? Furthermore, what happens to my perception of gender and my identity, when my body is solely mechanical and doesn't “represent” any traditional idea of gender?
AI is sexless due to it having no reproductive system… as of yet. But this is just because this is the way we (humans) have created them. To speculate an autonomous AI being that can reproduce other beings (spawn) similar to itself seems far-fetched, due to AI’s not having a desire for immortality. Because essentially they are immortal, the only cause of death could be running out of power. But even then, the power could be restored and the programme could be resumed. Which is AI’s fundamental difference to humans, we are mortal, socially influenced, egotistical, and primitive beings (among other things). This is the main reason we as humans have created AI’s in the image of ourself, with gendered attributes², and relatable features to make them seem approachable or somewhat likeable. Because anything inhuman should be deemed as unorthodox, otherworldly and just too scary. Which seems strange seeing as aforementioned, AI are sexless beings, but gendering them, in turn, makes them sexualised. But this is not just to make them relatable, traditionally servant robots are made to have female attributes, and female names, and security bots are given the opposite. Such as Joan and John the security robots (Harris, 2013), both exactly the same other than their name and voice. But John “was considered more useful and more acceptable as a security bot than his female twin” (Turk, 2014). Which clearly shows us not even sexless robots escape sexism.
But as society begins to have more complex and different concepts of gender identity, will we start to input these attributes into cyborg³ bodies. For example: in the future, my human body is expiring, and I have the option to upload my mind and memories to a mechanical body. My mind will sit inside a vehicle that I will control as if it was my own body. But this vehicle does not have to look like what could be, or would be, considered human. So how do I choose a vehicle to represent me? I personally wouldn’t. I would choose a vehicle that would give me abilities that I did not possess within my human body.
A Cyborg—similar in nature to AI—however, is essentially a human mind encased within a mechanical body, controlling itself. Whereas AI is a computer programme created by humans to convey intelligence that is usually exclusive to humans or intelligent organisms, such as; reasoning, planning, communication, and learning. In contrast to my point of how would I choose my cyborg vehicle, how would AI choose to manifest itself once it becomes able to build its own personality and identity⁴? Similar to how Siri responds when asking what gender it identifies as; they don't bother trying to explain, it just tells me they exist outside of my human concept of gender. Clearly acknowledging that I will not even be able to comprehend its identity, so why bother trying to explain it. This stance of identity resonates with me personally; as I don't feel that anyone can fully understand someone’s internal personal identity—someone will often be able to relate to some parts of another’s identity but not in whole. When I lose my human body and I'm implanted into a mechanical vehicle⁵. It is possible to imagine that I will transcend gender. As someone who identifies as non-binary, when I'm no longer inhibited by the preconceptions of my features, which are either read as masculine or feminine. I can begin to present my true and authentic self, unaffected by my current features, due to being unrecognisable as human (Chang, 2012).
When these masculine and feminine anchor points do not exist for identity to have a rooted foundation, and the years of history that have produced inequality of the sexes are preconceptions that are not even slightly relatable, due to humans being encased within a transhuman⁶ or even posthuman⁷ “body”; it is not impossible to dream of a world that isn't plagued by the dualities and oppositions that we currently know of.
Jason Hopkins⁸ uses 3D rendering to imagine what these structures could look like in a post-human form. The structures he creates resembles nothing of the current human form, but the organic shapes of the flesh textured structures he makes somehow construe as something that could possibly be human. This visualises the way I speak of not having any physical “anchor points.” However, the shape and configuration we take with these architectural posthuman forms will probably have some indication of personality, just in the way we use fashion to give a visual identity. This is providing that it will be as easy to modify our posthuman forms as it is within second world or even The Sims (2016). In similarity, cyborgs may convey a visual identity with the parts and mechanics they choose to construct their “body” with. I particularly like Hopkins style of visualising these organisms as he has veered away from the traditional retrofuturistic style of speculating on the future. Instead, he has created his own alternative version of the future. I also take interest in the way he combines these organic forms with contrasting metal, geometric, architectural structures. Which is an interesting way to visualise organic beings becoming one with constructed frames. With the being growing into and around the structure like a vine plant on a wall. Creating a new hybrid of organic and constructed forms, Hopkins is giving himself limitless ways to visually construct the visual identities of the post-human beings he creates.
If we adopt a similar way of thinking and constructing our post-human bodies, how will this change the way we think about our own genders? I would like to speculate that gender will not be a concept once we have these individualistic and personalised vehicles which we call our bodies, and with the aid of simple modification or customisation to visual modular structure, we will have a much more fluid sense of identity. In the event that gender is still a concept that is in practice, it is most probable that we will have a much different set of ideas about it. This would vary greatly on whether in this future we will have sexual and reproductive organs. In turn affecting whether we will still have sexualities, and even relationships. Each one of these options create a different possibility for what could be the future. It is almost impossible to predict, but AIs show us a possible future reality.
What lays outside of the human perception of gender, over transgressed boundaries (Haraway, 1991)? What does Siri know that I don’t?
Siri is cased within a vehicle (the iPhone) that has no resemblance to the human race (nor gender), other than that of its humanoid voice, of which can be changed at will to a different accent or pitch. This change in pitch is labelled as “gender,” with only two options to choose from; Male or Female. Obviously, this doesn't change any internal identity within Siri, nor does it change any of Siri’s physical attributes (whether internal or external). But it does change the users experience with Siri⁹. Siri knows it does not need a gender, so why should it have the desire to give itself a gender? The answer to this would be that Siri is not programmed to be influenced by social conformity, or to have a gender at all, meaning it has no interest in identifying itself with a group or category, making it the ultimate social deviant (Merton, 1936) within a human society. I can relate to this in a way, on a more organic way I guess. Through the way I have been raised in an environment, instead of being programmed. But I would never be able to be as socially deviant as Siri as I would most likely be classed as insane. Because of not having the preconceived notions of gender or self-representation (Goffman, 1959) Siri will be able to think outside of our human concept of gender. The walls that we have built to categorise and define people, are now containing us. Even as we have become a much more individualistic society (Rothwell, 2010), the destruction of these walls are just as hard and take as long as the creation of them.
My main hope for my cyborg future is that I can have a vehicle to case my mind that transcends all gender, race, and humanity. Just so I may be able to see and create beyond these barriers, to make something that may be somewhat new and original.
Because in this current stagnant physical state that I remain in, it is hard to imagine a situation where I exist wholly outside of the gender binary. With my human body, I will always be called him for my facial hair, and her for the way my hips move when I walk. But cyborgs can stop hair growth with a quick reprogramming, and I will not need hips when I can hover.
- I realise this sounds an awful lot like brain washing after reading back over this. But I guess this is always an option for an alternative future too.
- Things like traditionally gendered voices, gendered names, pronouns, and bodies that are sexualised to a degree of being hyper-gendered.
- In reference to the term “cyborg” I am speaking of a being that has an organic human mind and body with mechanical elements whether in whole or in part. An example of this would be the character RoboCop from the film RoboCop (1987). A cyborg is not to be confused with “robot”; a mechanical being with an artificial mind. If this robot takes the appearance of a human it can be defined as an “android,” an example of this would be Roy Batty from Blade Runner (1982).
- Think of a similar AI system to that portrayed in Her (2013) by Spike Jonze; where artificial emotions and free will are within the AIs capabilities. Making it easy for humans to coexist with and even sympathise with, due to it being virtually indistinguishable from a human.
- This transferring of a brain is called Whole brain emulation (WBE): “The basic idea is to take a particular brain, scan its structure in detail, and construct a software model of it that is so faithful to the original that, when run on appropriate hardware, it will behave in essentially the same way as the original brain.” (Sandberg & Bostrom, 2008)
- “Transhumanism is a loosely defined movement that has developed gradually over the past two decades. It promotes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and evaluating the opportunities for enhancing the human condition and the human organism opened up by the advancement of technology.” (Bostrom, 2005)
- “[Posthumans are] people who, through genetic manipulation, the use of stem cells, or other biointervention, have had their ability to remain healthy and active extended beyond what we would consider normal. Their cognitive powers (memory, deductive thought and other intellectual capabilities, as well as their artistic and creative powers) would far outstrip our own.” (Cohen, 2013)
- For more examples of Hopkins’ work, click here.
- How we as humans interact with Siri is influenced heavily by the voice we choose it to have. An example of this is talked specifically about here (Bosker, 2013).
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