A proposal for pronoun gender for AlphaGo and other AIs

Commentary on the¬†ongoing historic Go match between Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo program and Lee Sedol has included some anxiety about whether to refer to the program by “he” or “she”. Commentators say they are tempted to use a gendered pronoun because the program’s behaviour reminds them so much of a person. The inevitable happened, of course: the choice to use “he” by at least one commentator was accompanied by a justification from sexist premises.

Our desire to use gendered pronouns will increase as we start to speak of AIs as if they have consciousness. We have an opportunity to do this right, and make a reasoned choice, rather than a thoughtless stumble. I therefore have a proposal, but it requires a change in English grammar. Our world may be turned upside down by AIs anyway, so why not change grammar while we are at it?

My proposal: That the gender of pronouns used for an AI is that of the person speaking about it. I would call AlphaGo “he”; my daughter would call AlphaGo “she”. Whatever is the third person pronoun that you prefer to be used for yourself (“he”, “she”, “they”, whatever), that is what you would use in speaking of the AI. A group of people speaking would give the AI a plural pronoun.

This solves the obvious problem of attributing a gender to the AI, but it also acknowledges that by being human, and a member of the world culture that created this AI, I am in some small way part of this AI.

That is my proposal. And while we’re at it, we can apply the same principle to God.