RE: Gender Neutral Pronouns

From: James Higgins (
Date: Sat Mar 31 2001 - 08:35:20 MST

At 01:17 AM 3/31/2001 -0500, Gordon Worley wrote:
>I guess that my part of the universe must be very differnt from
>yours. When I first came across a document using the v pronouns, I
>adopted them immediately. After just a paragraph I had no trouble using
>them. It just seemed obvious to me what they were for and at the time I
>had not read anything else that used them. I think that I was only
>stopped the first time I read ve, because I had to think of what this word
>could be for, but I soon realized and moved on. I guess that other people
>must just do the same (or at in some places).

Ok, at least you admit that you did noticed them and you had to think about
them at some point. That was what I had real difficulty accepting, that
you never even noticed their use.

>Also, when I've explained the v pronouns to people, many have liked the
>idea. It makes it much easier to talk about a person in general without
>having to think about gender issues. He makes me think male, she female,
>and ve, neutral. Plus, they're a real life saver when you know someone's
>name but because they are of a different nationality can't tell gender
>from the name.

Hmm, see here I personally have no difficulty. She doesn't make me think
gender any more than he does. Every time you read material written about
'generic' individuals they use either he, or she or a combination of them
(such as in an "Employee Handbook"). But I have no problem understanding
that the material relates equally to both women and men, and that gender is
irrelevant in the context.

If the English language had gender neutral pronouns, or there was a widely
used and well known set of them (from the "public" standpoint, not SF) then
that would be great. But there isn't and I would like to see all this
material be as comprehensible as possible to the broadest range of
individuals possible.

FYI - I like the idea of gender neutral pronouns if you don't know
someone's gender (as per your example). But I think I'd rather just ask
and get it straightened out than draw attention to the fact. And, thinking
about it, using neutered gender pronouns may cause an equal emotional
reaction than using the wrong gender pronouns. I hope a 'Language Cortex'
is being planned, so our creations (and, eventually, ourselves) won't have
this problem down the road...

>Maybe we should compare demographics. The people I associate with are
>generally other students near my age, teachers, and the people I program
>with on projects over the Internet.

Well, I mostly associate with friends and colleges at work. My friends
tend to be very intelligent and open minded. The people I work with cover
a fairly broad range. Unfortunately, far too many of them are seem less
intelligent than I would have expected, and they don't really qualify as
open-minded, in my opinion at least.

Actually, this is a great example. I work for a very well known, and very
large corporation doing software architecture. I work with high-level
engineers and architects on a daily bases. One day the question came up of
how to individually address 2 hosts that have the same IP address, but are
connected to different NICs. Now to me, this is obvious, you can't. It
took over 20 minutes to explain this to the lot of them, and some were
still not convinced. These guys are very high level engineers/architects
and all of them work with networking on a daily basis; they should have
known this.

The great lengths I have to go to, on a regular basis, to get these guys to
understand what I consider to be very simple concepts astounds me. When I
consider how much effort this takes, talking to senior engineers in the
area they work in, I truly comprehend how difficult it is to convey
advanced concept to the general public.

At 11:33 PM 3/30/2001 -0900, Alicia Madsen wrote:
>Hello all,
>As a student and a newcomer to the Singularity and the exploration of sl4
>issues in general, I find using gender-nuetral pronouns quite helpful. When I
>disseminate material, I write my interpretation of the material down, so I
>read it later, and share with those around me my interpretation.
>When I first read through CatAI, it was the first of anything like close to
>sl4 that I had ever read. It was comforting to me to know that people had
>thought out in such detail that even the pronouns had changed, and I was
>impressed by the professional feel the gender-nuetral pronouns gave me.

I can see and understand this point of view. But, what really worries me
are the teeming masses of people out there who are not so open minded.

>The use of gender-nuetral pronouns provides a useful distancing of concepts
>that would otherwise seem way too threatening to accept for some people. This
>is helpful, because in these people can in their scorn mull over sl4-ish
>issues without losing face. It is my hope that the use of gender-nuetral
>pronouns continues and spreads, because it reflects the differences between
>AIs and humans.

Ah, but we don't want distancing. We want these concepts to seem "friendly".

>Refering to AIs as a him or a her is prejudiced. When dealing with a foreign
>culture, you do not treat them as your own culture, you must take into
>thier differences and celebrate them. Being Alaska Native, I have seen this
>first hand, where people in attempt to create equality between the races,
>treat Alaska Natives as white people. This is a prejudiced reaction, as
>Natives are not white. As if white people were the only measuring stick.
>Therefore treating AIs like humans is prejudiced against the AIs.

I disagree. First, for the case of pure AIs, then you may be somewhat
correct. But when we start talking about SIs, then this is not as
clear. If *I* upload, *I* may still consider myself male. My wife may
still consider herself female. Maybe we won't, maybe we will, but there is
no way to tell until it happens. So I don't think any writing that occur
before the fact can be considered prejudiced.

If we get an AI up to speed and it asks us to stop referring to it as a she
(or he), then we should worry about this. But I find it hard to believe
that an AI will take offense to us referring to it as a she. People have
feelings, egos, strong self image, prejudices, etc. I am not so certain
that AI will have all of these, and if we want "friendly" AI, I assume that
it would not.

>Using gender-nuetral pronouns furthur brings to mind the differences between
>AIs and humans, and therefore helps to avoid applying anthropomorphic
>ideas to
>them. Perhaps someone could sing a song of our differences and we could take
>pride in our effort to accept one another. We do this in INupiaq Eskimo
>culture and it helps. In the exploration of differences, we see how alike we
>really are to each other. I am very interested in seeing this concept brought
>up, as it is one step of many to bringing AIs and humans not furthur apart,
>but closer together in our understanding.

Well, in the grand scheme of things Eskimos and all other humans are
amazingly alike. An Eskimo male probably does many things that an Asian
male does. They also have similar thought processes, emotions, etc. Same
goes for a Jamacan woman and an white American woman. People, on the
whole, are very similar. We *create* artificial differences between each
other in our minds, more than anything else.

On the other hand SIs are very, very much different. They do not have the
same thought processes, general intelligence capacity and probably even
have different emotions. They won't need to sleep, eat, have sex, go to
the bathroom, etc. If they do any of this, it won't be anything like what
we do. For example, they may consume power in some form, but it won't
resemble eating food in virtually any way.

So, IMHO, we don't need to "further bring to mind the differences between
AIs and humans" like you suggest. We need to do the exact opposite, and
make the idea of SIs more comfortable to the general population.

After all, if estimates (and my memory) hold true, we will see SIs within
7-25 years. That is much less time than it took people to truly accept and
be completely comfortable with just about any other significant technology
advancement in history.

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