Friday, 30 December 2016

Shop Assistants, Surgeons, Gender, Science Fiction and Artificial Intelligence

Several weeks ago a friend said that she was recently shopping in a pretty well know UK store when an assistant at the store referred to her as Sir. This, obviously, wasn’t a good experience and she recounted the incident on social media. She was surprised to be contacted by the store and was invited to meet with the store manager who offered apologies and coffee and promised to take actions to help ensure that similar incidents don’t happen in the future.

More recently I also heard of an incident where a surgeon at a hospital consistently referred to a trans patient as he even though the patient was clearly presenting as female. After the surgeon had left, a newly qualified doctor spent quite a while apologising for the surgeon’s behaviour.

There seems a strange irony in this. A commercial world where senior people are anxious to ensure that everyone,including junior workers, deals with trans people with curtesy. And a part of the National Health Service where junior doctors are left apologising for the discourtesy shown by senior colleagues.

I know that the whole gender thing can become complicated. But, a person presenting as female probably wishes to be referred to as she. A person presenting as male probably wishes to be referred to as he. This isn’t the whole story, I know. Some people prefer gender-neutral words. But it is never more complex than simply asking a person what there preference is and then having the courtesy to go along with their wishes.

I recently read a trilogy of Sci-Fi books by Anne Leckie (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy). They are amongst the most enjoyable books that I’ve ever read, so if you have a chance I recommend reading them. In the future presented by these books gender is something that is significantly less significant than it is today. People are generally referred to as she regardless of gender. People dress as they wish, regardless of gender They wear makeup as they wish, regardless of gender. And in a curious kind of way AI (Artificial Intelligence) is presented in a way that shows a potential for love that exceeds the way that people sometimes behave.

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