Re: Not 'she' -- better writing skills

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sat Mar 31 2001 - 18:51:33 MST

Jimmy Wales wrote:
> I didn't mean to open such a can of worms, and I hope that we can
> drop this soon and talk about technical issues of more importance.

I thought this was a nice rest from going yet another round on Friendly AI
- and it does matter.

> I don't think using 'she' is a good idea, for the same sort of reason
> that I don't think using 'he' is a good idea. An AI is not likely to
> have anything like a human gender at all.
> What I advocate is _better writing_.

Oh, come on, I'm not *that* bad a writer. I already told you that I gave
it my best. Is there some technique I don't know about? Some particular
piece of writing that you feel solves the problem perfectly using an
absorbable method? Because otherwise, I understand that you want me to be
a better writer, but you haven't told me how.

> English is semantically complete
> in this area, so it is unnecessary to use artificial or awkward
> constructions of any kind.

If English were semantically complete in this area, feminists around the
English-speaking world would have been using "it" for the human indefinite
pronoun for the last forty years. The fact that they haven't - that
they've even resorted to constructions such as "he/she" or "they
(singular)" - means that "it" is simply not accepted as a viable reference
to humans. This is because of both the anaphoric and the "dumb matter"

> Nor does 'it' connote "dumb matter",
> either, in a great many common uses!
> Knock! Knock!
> "Who is it?"
> "It's the super, I've come to fix the sink."
> Is "it" the superintendent, or a superintelligence? :-) Either way,
> we don't find this construction awkward -- it's the most common
> construction in this context.

In the example you gave, "it" is used as an anaphor. Not a pronoun.

You can see this very readily by trying to substitute "he" in the sentence
above. Broken sentence, right? Try to substitute "this" and it works

So of course "it" doesn't connote dumb matter in that instance; it isn't
even being used as a pronoun. The fact that "it" can be used in this way
is itself the largest problem with using "it" as a pronoun in complex

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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