While AI propels us into the future with its state-of-the-art technologies, there are several means in which it still binds us to outdated beliefs. AI technology today is a highly male-dominated space, with female robots being modelled to fit feminine stereotypes.
An example of the above would be “empathetic machines”, which are dialogue systems that can detect human emotions, ask questions and engage in conversations. Sophia by Hanson Robotics and Erica by Hiroshi Ishiguro are famous humanoids that embody traditionally feminine traits both in aesthetics, as well as their capability to take on the role of conversational companions. Demure, soft and beautiful – both humanoids have characteristics that are tailored to suit the preferences of male heterosexual users. On the other hand, Hermes the rescue robot from MIT, and Atlas the robot that can Parkour from Boston Dynamics are distinctly masculine in their physical form and traits.
In popular culture, however, we have several female robot characters who go against the grain and demonstrate personality traits that are genuinely empowering. While the eternal clash between fact and fiction remains to be seen, in honour of International Women’s Day, here are a few fictional fembots who embody qualities of strength, resilience and intelligence that we’d like to see incorporated into their counterparts in the real world.
Ava from Ex Machina
While Ex Machina is undeniably brutal, it is still an interesting exploration of artificial intelligence, gender and power. Ava, a captivating fembot emerges as an incredibly strong character as she frees herself from men who seek to possess and subdue her. Though it is marked by violence, Ava manages to assert her independence at the closure of the film, evading the sad fate of previous gynoids who were destroyed by their creator.
Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell
Let’s step away from the Hollywoodized version of fembots and look at the wonderful world of anime for a bit! A cyborg who is appointed the squad leader of Public Security Section 9, Kusanagi is incredibly commanding, strong-willed and physically powerful. She also displays signs of emotional intellect as she questions her consciousness and introspects deeply.
Arcee from the Transformers
This fierce and deadly robot displays signs of unbelievable persistence. A skilled sharpshooter and an expert in end-to-end combat, Arcee is a merciless fighter who cares deeply about her fellow Autobots and the humans they protect. Her strength and unwavering loyalty make her an incredibly admirable and dynamic character.
T-X from Terminator 3
A charming gynoid capable of shapeshifting and assuming physical traits of both men and women among other functions, T-X is a force to be reckoned with. A truly unforgettable character whose hunger to fight and achieve is worthy of applause, T-X is tenacious and intelligent, besides being a character who pushes all boundaries associated with traditional femininity.
While one mustn’t confuse the real and the ‘reel’ to fashion robots that are destructive and violent, it is important to remember that creating female robotic personas with more complex personalities is central to avoid perpetuating unilinear, stereotypical notions, as depicted by most fembots today. With AI pervading every aspect of our lives, it is vital to ensure that it is diverse and inclusive.