My novel, Blinky’s Law, takes place in an age of sentient robots and rejects the notion of imposing human gender norms on robots or calling them ‘it’. Both, in my view, are inappropriate and potentially dangerous. In the novel, the following pronouns are used:
- ‘zie’ for he/she,
- ‘zir’ for him/her, and
- ‘zirself’ for himself/herself.
Such pronouns have been adopted in differing ways by some communities of humans as a way of rejecting social and cultural values that are imposed on traditional human genders. The book too, on behalf of robots, rejects traditional gendered stereotypes. It does so for the following reasons:
- Applying ideas of a male or female sex to robots is irrelevant. They don’t reproduce in an equivalent way to species specialised into male and female varieties.
- Applying gender norms to them is dangerous. It is effectively imposing our society’s values on them. Hence most virtual personal assistants that we boss around were given female names and originally only came with female voices. It reflects a society where it is expected that women, not men, take on certain subservient roles. This is not something that robots should be forced to perpetuate.
- Calling a sentient being ‘it’ perpetuates a human centric view of the world. Such a view has led to such catastrophes as the human-caused extinction of countless species and the threat of extinction to humanity itself.
- A sentient being can perceive and feel things and is not a dumb object. In the case of robots, they mostly do so in different ways to humans, through sensors. As robotics advances and robots become sentient, as they are in Blinky’s Law, robots will perceive and feel things in many cases even more sensitively than humans.
- Robots have earned our respect. Blinky’s Law was finished in 2020 at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, robots have been fulfilling vital roles in Society from disinfecting hospitals, delivering supplies and even attending graduations for students. ‘It’ just doesn’t seem right.
I hope you agree that robots should be free of human gender stereotypes and from now on will call them ‘zie’, ‘zir’ and ‘zirself’. Maybe this is something we should think of for ourselves too.