in Link Post

What if HAL had Been Female?


I’m loath to the link the register, and I said as much on my about page. In this case, it’s unfortunately the only source for the article. So I’l just say: reader beware. The article is interesting enough (if shallow), but my main reason for linking to it is a single paragraph, which struck an odd chord for me.

Lucy Orr:

HAL singing while dying was emotive enough, but imagine if HAL were female. HAL changed sex halfway through the development of the script, having originally been named Athena. We’re jumpy enough about AI and the rise of the machines. Imagine the added emotional damage of a mother figure attempting to kill the 2001 crew and the residual misgivings that would have produced with the arrival of Siri, Cortana or Alexa.

Setting aside the sexism1, I think the interesting thing is that Orr might have it almost exactly backwards here. I suspect one of the reasons almost all of the current range of digital assistants default to female2 is because HAL was male. Which raises the question: If HAL had been female, would we be asking Alexi to turn on the lights, Sirius to play some light jazz, and… er… Mr. Google Assistant to set a timer for the spaghetti?

  1. Female automatically equals “mother figure”? Really? That’s pretty surprising from a female author. Perhaps I’m missing something?
  2. The only exception I’m aware of is Siri, which defaults to a male voice for British English.