Sexist Robots?

It is not news that AI and robots show the same biases their makers and programmers do. We’ve already seen hiring programs eliminating women from consideration for jobs and sorting photos of people by outmoded stereotypes. Sexist robots have stepped it up now.

A Saudi male robot named Muhammad patted a female reporter’s posterior in a move its makers say showed “no deviations from expected behavior.” An apologist on X suggested that the robot had been trying to shake the reporter’s hand, and the makers, QSS,  claimed that the reporter had gotten too close to Muhammad.

Ladies first

Muhammed follows Sara, a female humanoid robot billed as the first Saudi-made humanoid robot. Muhammed is the second in the QSS series of humanoid robots, both equipped with multiple languages and programmed to respond to human overtures. While many makers avoid gender stereotyping their humanoid robots, QSS is all in on making their robots specifically and unquestionably male and female.

“I am Mohammad, the first Saudi robot in the form of a man. I was manufactured and developed here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a national project to demonstrate our achievements in the field of artificial intelligence,” Muhammed announced at DeepFest.

They also make autonomous robotic vehicles, a wide range of surveillance solutions, sign language processing tools, worker oversight tools that detect safety gear to make sure workers are properly equipped, and a variety of other automated and AI tools.

If Sara had been the one to grope a reporter, would QSS have blamed the human for wandering too near to the robot? Or is their reaction a variant on advising women to behave differently in order to avoid inappropriate make behavior?

Toronto research

Coincidentally, researchers in Toronto have just reported that men with sexist attitudes are more interested in having sex with robots than other men. This announcement falls into that group of studies that make us wonder what the researchers were thinking of in the first place.

However, the researchers suggest that the willingness of sexist men to partner romantically with robots may be caused by the difficulty such men might have in finding human partners. Another variant, perhaps, on the labor shortage explanation for the rise in the use of robots in the workplace.

Whether the problem is sexist men building sexist robots or sexist men choosing sex robots, it sounds more like a human problem than a tech problem.

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