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Rise of the Fembots: Why Artificial Intelligence Is Often Female

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A female robot.

Researchers struggle to understand why far more artificial intelligence systems have female personas than male.

Credit: Sarah Holmlund/

A disproportionate percentage of artificial intelligence (AI) systems have female personas, and researchers have struggled to determine why this phenomenon occurs.

One theory is AI systems and humanoid robots tend to perform jobs that have traditionally been associated with women, such as maids, personal assistants, or museum guides.

Karl Fredric MacDorman, an expert in human-computer interaction at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, studies how men and women react to voices of different genders. In one study, MacDorman found men preferred female voices, but they showed no implicit preference for them, whereas women in the study implicitly preferred female voices to male ones. "I think there's a stigma for males to prefer males, but there isn't a stigma for females to prefer females," he says.

However, despite the preference for female voices, humanoid robots are often male. "When it comes to a disembodied voice, the chances of it being female are probably slightly higher than of it being male," says Kathleen Richardson, a social anthropologist at University College London. "But when it comes to making something fully humanoid, it's almost always male."

When humanoid robots are female, Richardson says they tend to be modeled after attractive, subservient young women.

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