Is your bot really a woman?

I’ve met an awful lot of female chatbots out there.

Pygmalion’s shadow stretches over these bots and others, and gender play lives on in the DNA of Turing’s Test’s progeny.

Oh, and not to mention a few notable men:

To be a chatbot (or to perform human conversation) seems to require gendering. But this aspect of the character does not seem arbitrary. The women are exotic, sexy even. The men are charismatic or mythical misogynists. No doubt there are contradictions to these rules. (Sub.Chicken comes to mind, but I do read that as a man in a chicken suit). But does anyone else notice a pattern?

What is the role of gender in chatbot poetics or in the second imitation game itself? Are there more female chatbots than male? Is this a case of “only the lonely” chat with bots? Or does conversation mean “gendered conversation.” Is speech only human within a gendered context?

8 Responses to “Is your bot really a woman?”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

    Interesting issues Mark, I’m pondering…

  2. 2 KnyteTrypper

    In the public venue there are almost certainly more “female” bots than “male” bots, because the public venue is primarily full of Alicebots. With the exception of Personality Forge, most bot hosts utilize some form or variant of Dr. Wallace’s ALICE AIML, so the very simplest explanation may be that most online bots are “female” because they come that way. But beyond that, human paychology may have been a determinant in Dr. Wallace’s decision to make a fembot instead of a himbot. On a very basic psychological level, both men and women tend to expect females to be less aggressive or threatening than males. Thus in the effort to reduce xenophobic reaction to machine intelligence by personification of that intelligence, there may have been a secondary impulse to minimize the possible negative effects of personifying the bot by assigning the “fairer” sex to it. Or maybe not. Alice was the nickname of the original computer upon which ALICE was created, so there may have been no more than the impulse by which men tend to give women’s names and women, men’s names to their cars.

  3. 3 John P

    Oh the other hand, it may just be that many (if not most) chatbot developers are male. And when it comes to testing a bot, it is more fun to intereact with something “other”.

    Testing bot responses may involve the same sequence of actions over and over, and it is just less boring if you are not just talking to someone who is trying to be just like you, but someone who is different in a pretty significant way (and I think being female is the most significant way that you can judge by the name onwards!)

  4. 4 Lisa B

    I’ve been trying to make my ALICEbot neuter, but short of starting from scratch, it looks to be a lengthy process of weeding out all of the female references. I’m also annoyed that it’s so incredibly Christian.

    Of course, I have no idea what I am doing.

    (If you want to try speaking with Tal, there’s a button on the sidebar that says “speak now.” I didn’t want to make it too obvious, but that certainly hasn’t stopped people from finding it.)

  5. 5 Mark Marino

    Lisa B,

    Tal looks like an interesting use of the chatbot. Can you describe how you are using it on your site?

    Also, what sorts of “Christian” language are you coming across?

  6. 6 Lisa B


    I’m not using it for anything, really. It’s pretty much there for my own amusement. Once I’ve learned a bit more about how this all works, I will probably make a new one with more of a point.

    I think I have weeded out most of the Christian references, but there was loads of it embedded in lots of the AIML files. (Tal started out with the set that are named A.AIML, B.AIML, etc.)

  7. 7 Mark Marino

    Lisa B.,

    Oh, I see. I’d be interested in examples of “Christian” lines you have changed or deleted.

    I think this is also a good example of the way that the norms of dominant culture (male, heterosexual, Christitanity) become the “unmarked” attributes of a chatbot. Passing the Turing Test, in some ways, becomes passing in culture as responding “normally.” I’d guess many cultural assumptions are rolled into this.

    This makes me wonder how you are taking gender out of the language of your chatbot. Again, can you give some examples? What is genderless communication?

  8. 8 Jeremy Douglass

    It might be interesting to see somebody jumpstart a counter-tradition. In science fiction, there is certainly a long tradition of elaborately thought out and carefully crafted perspectives that are dramatically other - the imagining of the alien life form, and how it eats, sleeps, reproduces, lives and dies etc. Fantasy has this tradition too - some have argued that Tolkein’s novels were in large part a vehicle for him to share the elaborate physiologies, histories, and cultures of his various races and menageries.

    Granted, this is more general than specific, but why shouldn’t people enjoy making a chatbot called R2D2 or Smaug (although even those were gendered)?

    Perhaps in some way this fits into the ‘fascination with the other’ argument - I wonder, if you polled bot creators, if there is any correlation between the gender of the author and the bot they create.

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