Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Cortana Sexy? Mechanics of Mechanical Gender (Halo)

Originally posted at Halopedia. Note that at the time, there were many low-intellect posts cropping up about the perceived sexual attractiveness of Cortana. This article parodies such posts with its title.

Halopedia’s AI infobox has a section in which the gender of the AI being described is to be stated. On Cortana, this gender section contains the description “Female programming”, while the section on 343 Guilty Spark lists the Monitor as “AI, but personality is that of a male”. While this makes some sense to me, I can’t help but feel that this entire infobox scheme is flawed in basic concept. Can an AI have a gender? If so, how is it defined?

First of all, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what gender is, as the word is often incorrectly used interchangeably with “sex.” A sex is a biological distinction referring to physical characteristics corresponding to specific roles in the practice of sexual reproduction, generally separated into the two categories male and female though some variances can occur. Sex is determined through genes present in sex chromosomes, which alter the formation of primary sex characteristics (sex organs); secondary sex characteristics, which are distinctive traits unrelated to the reproductive system (i.e. fat distribution, ect.), are formed through levels of sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.

Gender, on the other hand, refers to the socially constructed and psychological distinctions of male and female persons. It is the mental counterpart of sex, a personal sense of identity rather than a physically verifiable state of being. For most people, their sex and gender are considered aligned and thus indistinguishable, but a minority of the population feels that their own internal sense of gender does not match up with their physical sex and thus requires a distinction be made. The concept of gender is greater than this, but as it is unrelated to my point about AIs, it will not be dealt with in this article.

Cortana is a smart (sapient) AI, the product of a Tier 3 civilization, namely the human race. The people of a Tier 3 civilization are unable to produce smart AIs without using – and ultimately destroying – a brain of sufficient intellect from which to base the circuits using cognitive impression modeling. In Cortana’s case, the brain used was a flash clone of Dr. Catherine Halsey’s adult brain. I see no evidence to suggest that Dr. Halsey’s gender would not be female, and I deem it a reasonable assumption that Cortana would share the gender of her brain donor. Transhumanist reasoning aside, Cortana has demonstrated no tangible behavior to suggest anything other than a female gender identity. Her voice, avatar, mannerisms, and social interactions are all of a feminine nature.

So, Cortana = female gender. The question is: is gender relevant for the infobox? I say it is. Cortana and other smart AIs are noncorporeal entities – minds without bodies. Without a body for which to have a sex, I deem the sex issue to have no value.

343 Guilty Spark and other Forerunner AIs are another matter. Unlike humanity, the Tier 1 Forerunners appear to have been able to construct fully conscious AIs without the “blood sacrifice” required for the production of the Tier 3 AIs. As gender is a human subject, would a lifeform so far removed from humanity possess anything similar?

Spark is often considered male from the AI’s male voice, supplied by actor Tim Dadabo. Spark also behaves in a somewhat masculine manner, although this could just be attributed to stereotype. Perhaps a notable insight lies in the novelization Halo: The Flood, where Spark is referred to as ‘it’ by the narrator (partially John-117, partially omniscient) from the first introduction of the character to the return to the Halo control room, in which Cortana refers to Spark by masculine pronouns. After this, the narrator then refers to Spark using masculine pronouns. This could be interpreted as John thinking of the AI as genderless by default, but later becomes enlightened by Cortana. However, masculine pronouns are common to refer to people of inconclusive gender, making this remain unclear. In addition, more than one continuity error has arisen from the novel, such as Hunters being referred to as having spines (as in bones), when it was later established as canon that Hunters are hiveminds composed of several worms and would have no bones.

In conclusion, I feel that gender, not sex, should be the basis for these AI characters. Cortana is absolutely female, for both physiological and observation-based reasons. 343 Guilty Spark, on the other hand, is up for debate. Personally, I would call him male, but the issue is definitely vague and unclear.

...And the title may have misused the word "sexy." ;)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see some one touching the matter.
Recently after Watching the re the be halo 5 teaser (I'm assuming that you have been keeping up to date in regards to the halo story) I Began to think more about the relationship That was bored painted to us of cortana and John.
I started thinking and Researching about our current theories and understandings about artificial inteligence in regards to gender and over all consciousness.
at the moment i am typing this my smart phone.
i make sure to get back to you on the topic when i an undertone of a real keyboard and With my Thoughts
Clearly organized and supported.