Female robots are seen as being the most human. Why?

With the proliferation of female robots such as Sophia and the popularity of female virtual assistants such as Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon) and Cortana (Microsoft), artificial intelligence seems to have a gender issue.

This gender imbalance in AI is a pervasive trend that has drawn sharp criticism in the media (even Unesco warned against the dangers of this practice) because it could reinforce stereotypes about women being objects.

But why is femininity injected in artificial intelligent objects? If we want to curb the massive use of female gendering in AI, we need to better understand the deep roots of this phenomenon.
Making the inhuman more human

In an article published in the journal Psychology & Marketing, we argue that research on what makes people human can provide a new perspective into why feminization is systematically used in AI. We suggest that if women tend to be more objectified in AI than men, it is not just because they are perceived as the perfect assistant, but also because people attribute more humanness to women (versus men) in the first place. https://www.youtube.com/embed/PI8XBKb6DQk?wmode=transparent&start=0 Trailer for Ex Machina, a 2015 film starring Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac.

Why? Because women are perceived as warmer and more likely to experience emotions than men, female gendering of AI objects contributes to humanizing them. Warmth and experience (but not competence) are indeed seen as fundamental qualities to be a full human but are lacking in machines.

Drawing on theories from dehumanization and objectification, we show across five studies with a total sample of more than 3,000 participants that:

    Women are perceived as more human than men, overall and compared to non-human entities (animals and machines).
    Female bots are endowed with more positive human qualities than male bots, and they are perceived as more human than male bots, compared to both animals and machines.
    The inferred humanness of female bots increases perceived uniqueness of treatment from them in a health context, leading to more favorable attitudes toward AI solutions.

We used several different measures of perceived humanness, compared to both animals and machines. For example, to measure blatant humanness of female and male bots compared to animals, we used the ascent humanization scale based on the classic “march of progress” illustration. We explicitly asked online respondents to indicate how “evolved” they perceived female or male bots to be, using a continuous progression from ancient apes to modern humans.

This article is an abstract. Read more on The San Francisco Times' website

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash