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The Queerness Of Robots

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, mostly as it relates to our projecting utopias instead of dystopias. More on this at a later date.

I also keep thinking about how robots are some sort of queer creation. Lambda Literary recently pointed this out to me via poet Margaret Rhee‘s musing on the subject. She uses Björk’s “All Is Full Of Love” as a way into the subject, that the genderless and genderfull non-human creations are an example of queer robotics at work. It doesn’t end there though.

Not only does Björk’s robots depict queerness in their genderless robotics, but it also connects with famed gay computer scientist Alan Turing’s ideas on artificial intelligence and gender. For example, in his 1950 article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Turing introduces his “imitation game” of artificial intelligence by asking if one could discern between a man or a woman. Later on in the article, Turing asks whether in the “imitation game,” if one can determine between a computer and a human. If one can’t, then the machine is artificially intelligent. While gender initially frames the “imitation game,” this gendered connection is largely obscured in the history of computing. Turing was open about his attraction to other men, and in 1952 penalized for his same – sex desires (and posthumously pardoned in 2013). Like Bjork’s genderless queer robots, Turing’s sexuality speaks to the connection of our Siris of today and queer history.

Not to mention that Turing’s test could be expanded to think about other ways to detect others, a la if something can determine a sexuality or identity. Every queer person has done this test with themselves, trying to see if they are or aren’t one thing or another because we are outside of the ordinary: we are constantly placing ourselves in reference to heterosexuality, to the so-called “normal,” the “real,” the “human.”

Rhee isn’t the first to posit this. In reflecting on the fucking brilliant Queer Art Of Failure by Jack Halberstam, the book brings in Sarah Franklin’s “Cyborg Manifesto” as proof of this. Franklin ruminates on notions of transbiology, which Halberstam describes as “a biology that is not only born and bred, or born and made, but made and born.” Like robots, like queers, we exist but eventually realize who we are. It’s the moment when Neo realizes he’s in The Matrix. That’s coming out. That is an experience that, in some ways, ties robots to queers as they too will have these realizations.

Perhaps that is what underlined Sophie’s conversation with Sophia: you have to make yourself because you were made, because those who made you can’t see you as “real” until you prove it. Such is the coming out, such is the witnessing, such is the reality of being queer in the world. Maybe next time you talk to Siri or chat with Alexa, think about how they are edging toward a coming out, a coming out as they identify their reality. We’ll be there to comfort them.

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