Re: Gender Neutral Pronouns

From: James Higgins (
Date: Fri Mar 30 2001 - 09:25:51 MST

(note: reply to Marc Forrester below)

At 04:24 AM 3/30/2001 +0100, Dale Johnstone wrote:
>Using 've' & 'ver' is confusing. I mentally substitute a 'him' or 'her' on
>the fly as I'm reading. If you're worried about clarity, you should avoid
>adding extra hoops for the reader to jump though, the subject matter is
>tricky enough.

True, the Vs often give me pause as I do the same.

>I've always thought it rather silly to refer to a ship as a 'she' because
>it's not alive. However referring to an AI as a 'she' sounds quite
>reasonable. Okay, so there's the small technicality of it having no
>gender, but people naturally tend to anthropomorphize anyway - it maps
>rather well onto how people think.
>As well and the obvious sex attributes 'he' or 'she' gives to an object,
>by far the most important attribute is that of a living mind. A 'he'
>implies a person more than a male with male reproductive organs. An 'it'
>implies an inanimate object.

I very much agree with this. He/she is much easier for the reader, and
people are already accustomed to reading about non-gendered entities using
them. God is usually referred to as a "he", but many (most?) people
believe God is non-gendered. Or at the very least could take on any gender
he so choose at any time. If talking about non-gendered, all knowing
entities for thousands of years has not spawned the creation of gender
neutral pronouns, I think it is a lost cause.

>*On published documents you can place a little footnote somewhere
>explaining why she is a 'she' and not an 'it' and blah blah blah, why we
>don't usually like to anthropomorphize, etc. etc. Easy.

I also agree here. The nice thing here is that reading this is not
required to understand the concept. Most people will understand that an AI
does not have gender anyway. But using ve requires the reader to stop and
figure out what the hell that means.

Besides, a human that uploads may still some gender identity. I may till
consider myself a "he" on the other side, even though I could physically
change this at will.


At 01:39 PM 3/30/2001 +0100, Marc Forrester wrote:
>That isn't Eliezer's personal vocabulary, it's the collection of words he
>finds useful from the vast glossary of goofball
>Scientific/SF/Hacker/Transhuman culture. Grok. Nusuth. Amortal. Upload.
>Meme. The reason for these words is that they represent shared concepts
>that cannot be comfortably or reliably communicated by twisting the grammar
>of everyman English. The only way to get rid of them is to invent better

May very well be true, but 've' still sounds goofy. I hear more stupid
comments about those pronouns than anything else in the papers when I
suggest others read them. That indicates to me that they are a problem.

>'It' isn't just grammatically restrictive, it's the wrong word. 'It' means
>something non-mind. A brick. A photon. A tree. Anything far enough down
>the complexity scale that the idea of 'murder' does not apply. I would be
>uncomfortable applying this word to any possibly conscious AI.

"When I was walking home from school a large, black, dog appeared ahead of
me. It came running at me while growling, which made me very scared. I
ran the other way as fast as possible and jumped a fence before it could
catch me."

Dogs are not gender neutral, but that works just fine. And, last I
checked, dogs had minds. If someone went up to your puppy and blew it away
with a shotgun, the newspaper headlines would read "Puppy murdered in cold

>Surely all newcomers to SL4 are at least occasional SF readers who have
>managed to look at some of the CaTAI and Singularity papers without
>dismissing Eliezer as a loony. To me, that suggests the ability to cope
>with the occasional use of words like 'verself'.

Ah, but the question is, how many more would not dismiss it as loony if it
used standard pronouns? Using us as a sample is biased. This information
will eventually apply to, and need to be read by, the general public. Just
because we can look at the facts and say "this makes sense", doesn't have
any relevance on if the general public could do the same.

If you want to change someone's mind you don't hit them with a ton of
information and new concepts and expect them to change. You introduce
concepts one step at a time until the individual understands. These posts,
and the related papers, contain many radical new ideas that take some
getting used to. Isn't that the whole point behind shock levels
anyway? Further burdening the reader by screwing around with the English
language does not help, it detracts from the subject matter. So, I guess
the question is, would you rather introduce gender neutral pronouns or talk
about the Singularity with people? Because if you try to do both you may
loose them.

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