Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ex Machina: A Dystopian Reflection

(This is a copy of a required movie review for Philosophy of Singularity.)


Like most futurist films, Ex Machina tells us more about the current state of humanity than it does the future. Ex Machina, intentionally or unintentionally, was glittered with biases. There were multiple aspects of Ex Machina I found troubling--including (but not limited to): moral, social, and technological issues. Ex Machina is a dystopian view of AI, or rather, a dystopian reflection of humanity.

While optimistic estimates put human-level AI at 2029,[1] the most important thing we can do is reflect upon ourselves and question what we are programming into our creations. Some contemplate developing an ethical code for AI integration and creation, but in all honesty, I’m inclined to believe that the ethical code we need to be evaluating is our own. Our AI will be reflections of ourselves. What do we want that to look like?

For example, Ava, the AI, was played by a white woman. Our moral codes and social structures have a long history with its treatment of women. In Ex Machina, Nathan, the creator of Ava, hired Caleb to determine if Ava passed for human-level intelligence, a Turing test of sorts.[2] Historically, there have been more than a few occasions when men have been in a disproportionate position of deciding when women are “allowed” to the full status of personhood, e.g. legally, intellectually, or physically. Granting the status of personhood in Ex Machina was determined by two men, which could be a reflection of historic and present representations of women.

Though Caleb may have had the best of intentions, his biases were quite evident. It was clear throughout the film he cared for the well-being of Ava, but he didn’t seem to have the same concern for Kyoko. There is an intersectional component that shouldn’t be overlooked. Kyoko, a woman of color, who was specifically limited in her ability to speak, was treated far worse than Ava. She was treated at best as a house servant, and at worst as a sex slave. The message received was, remove a woman’s ability to communicate and you remove her personhood, autonomy, and consent.

When Kyoko attempted to take off her clothes when she and Caleb were alone, Caleb, and likely the majority of the audience, assumed this as a sexual advance. But could there be another explanation? Was she attempting to communicate to Caleb her real identity? Was she attempting to share something intimate and profoundly important of her personhood that was mistaken as something sexual? Maybe. Couldn’t she have simply ripped the skin off her face? Maybe. Like with any victim of sexual abuse and trauma, perhaps Kyoko was acting out of fear. Her sexuality (and Ava’s for that matter) was portrayed in the movie as one of, if not her most powerful asset. Perhaps it was her sexuality that put her in a position which she was brave enough to expose her true self as an AI.

Either way, Caleb showed little to no indication that he was interested in liberating women like Kyoto, but rather interested in his own gratification with Ava. Was Ava only using Caleb for her escape? Or did Kyoko communicate to Ava Caleb’s lack of desire to liberate women like Kyoko? Is that why Ava left Caleb? We don’t know.

In the end, Kyoko died while Ava lived. After Kyoko’s death, Ava literally took the skin off another woman of color’s body and kept it for her own. I’m having a hard time seeing how this isn’t an awful unintentional bias or a direct representation of white women’s perceptions of women of color. It’s truly horrifying.

While some feminists applaud Ava’s escape[3], the story teaches us that in order for a woman, a white woman, to attain personhood, autonomy, and freedom, it is at the hand of violence, deceit, betrayal, death, and the expense of women of color and men. If this is how patriarchy is to be defeated, I’m not so sure we’ve achieved anything of value. What we have on our hands is a quasi-Animal Farm[4] scenario where one dictatorship is overthrown just to be replaced by another one. Is there really any justice or improvement at that point? If one demographic is held up at the expense of another, we have not evolved and THAT is the real dystopian message of the film. Not that Ava, the most powerful AI created has escaped her cage, but that there is no genuine progression—just the enhancement of technologies that we program with our own biases, flaws, and oppressions.[5] Ava is exactly what we made her to be. If that’s really what we allow patriarchy to do to us, all of us, then we all lose.

The development of AI needs our intersectional experiences and differences, but more importantly it needs our own internal transformations. AI will be an amplified version of ourselves, all that is good and beautiful and all that is harmful and terrible. We must continue to change ourselves, and not just change, but improve through genuine progression if there is any hope for AI or our species. Radical compassion, love, and benevolence are required for progress, not just a race track to the most advanced technologies. Because without those attributes, there is no advanced civilization.



Notes and Citations




[1] Ray Kurzweil, “Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence,” TIME, December 19 2014, accessed May 27, 2017, “The median view of AI practitioners today is that we are still several decades from achieving human-­level AI. I am more optimistic and put the date at 2029, but either way, we do have time to devise ethical standards.” http://time.com/3641921/dont-fear-artificial-intelligence/

[2] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Turing test,” accessed May 27, 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

[3] J.A. Micheline, “Ex Machina: A (White) Feminist Parable of Our Time,” Women Write About Comics, May 21, 2015, accessed May 27, 2017, “But here’s what’s killer about the android/artificial intelligence = woman metaphor, particularly as shown by Ava. It sucks because it implies that we were created by men and for men, when of course, we were not. And yet, it triumphs because it says that even if we allow such a ridiculous premise, even if we entertain the notion that men are constantly building or trying to build us into what we want to be, it doesn’t matter. Ava, patriarchal dream as she is, shrugs off her programming, shrugs off the way that men want to see her and gets her goddamn own. Which is inspiring, of course, because in the end, what it really means is: so can we.”

[4] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Animal Farm,” accessed May 27, 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm

[5] Clare Garvie and Jonathan Frankle,  “Facial-Recognition Software Might Have a Racial Bias Problem,” The Atlantic,  April 7, 2016, accessed May 27, 2017 https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/the-underlying-bias-of-facial-recognition-systems/476991/

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Philosophy of Singularity: Week 2


For the next six weeks I will be taking a special topics course, Philosophy of Singularity. This is the second post of a series of five where I will share my notes, definitions, summaries, and commentary from class lectures and discussions. These posts are living documents that I may edit, adapt, and develop as I gain more insights and information throughout the semester.


Class Summary and Personal Commentary


Required Reading
The Immortality Upgrade by The New Yorker
Transfigurism.org by The Mormon Transhumanist Association


The Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) is a “nonprofit organization that syncretizes Mormonism and transhumanism. MTA sees parallels between transhumanist ideas, such as the technological singularity, and Mormon teachings. The majority of members are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), but the LDS Church is not directly affiliated with the MTA. MTA is affiliated with the world wide Humanity+ transhumanist organization.” (Wikipedia) Members of the MTA agree to both the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation and the Transhumanist Declaration.

Mormon Transhumanism takes the Mormon idea that humans should become gods, and the Transhumanist idea that we should use science and technology in ethical ways to improve our condition until we attain posthumanity, and suggests that these are related, if not identical tasks. That is, we should ethically use our resources including religion, science, and technology to improve ourselves and our world until we become Gods ourselves.

While reading What is Mormon Transhumanism?, by Lincoln Cannon, which I have read multiple times over the years, I have become increasingly convinced that much of the profoundness of his work is found in esthetics. While many views of the singularity, transhumanism, and posthumanism seem steeped in pessimism and dystopian depictions, Cannon offers a perspective that it optimistic, not with blind accretions built upon escapism, but rather trajectories worth aspiring to that are founded upon the resiliency and resourcefulness of the human spirit.  While risks should certainly be discussed, addressed, and mitigated, dystopian views without discussion of how to improve circumstances borderline as nihilistic.

Cannon comments, “Esthetics shape and move us, and at their strongest, they provoke us as a community to a strenuous mood.” This is quite true. We are literally shaping the reality of our existence and much of that motivation is found in esthetics. Our projections are forth-telling. Cannon shares an esthetic that is an all-encompassing trajectory for humanity not only in transhumanist terms, but also religious terms. While current projections of Gods in Christianity are overwhelmingly dominated by a singular male esthetic, Cannon’s New God Argument provides a plural God and a communal transcendence that is just as much Mormon, and even Christian, as it is Transhuman. Cannon may or may not realize how profound his statement concerning esthetics is for women, the queer community, people of color, the economically disadvantage or anyone who has experienced systemic institutionalized marginalization and oppression. Perhaps, if he does realize the broader ramifications of his statement I’d like to think it has been, in part, to me helping him realize it over the years. Maybe, maybe not. In either case, Lincoln has been one of the most influential philosophers in shaping my perceptions of both Mormon theology and Transhumanism, and is a dear friend.

I have contemplated expanding further on the broader implications of the New God Argument. I have put off writing The New God Argument: A Feminist’s Perspective for far too long. Some of the genius of Cannon’s work has still gone underdeveloped or at least unwritten.


Class Responses to Mormon Transhumanism


Many dystopian views of the singularity, transhumanism, and posthumanism are often predicated, not simply about technological limitations, but human limitations. Mainly, humanity’s capacity for radical love and compassion. The concerns I’m hearing most among peers are those related to social issues and oppression. There seems to be a tone of pessimism toward the potential of human progress, and what progress for the human species actually looks like. Progress is not just the enhancement and development of technologies, but also improving the self. Optimism seems lost in the conversation though. My generation, if my anecdotal observations are of any value, seems highly skeptical of optimism itself, especially if in relation to religion.

(1) The majority of the class identified as active LDS, and even more were familiar with Mormonism.

(2) Some seemed to hold to the idea that God should be responsible for making immortality a reality, and that being changed “in the twinkling of an eye” does not include technology. There seems to be some hesitance in accepting that technology is spiritual—which is somewhat silly considering Mormonism’s unique and quirky relationship with spiritual technologies (i.e seer stones, the Urim and Thummin, Liahona, the Brother of Jared and glowing stones, tools to build Noah’s ark, golden plates, brass plates, temple clothing, broadcasting general conference). I’d go as far to say that Mormonism doesn’t exist without technology.

(3) There seemed to be some confusion about representation. I had to clarify we, the MTA, are not directly affiliated with the LDS Church. In fact, I had to clarify to the class that there was a difference between Mormonism and the LDS Church, including a brief rundown of Mormonism’s history of other Mormon sects not affiliated with the LDS Church (i.e. AUB, The Kingston Group, FLDS, Community of Christ, formerly RLDS). By the end of my response I think it was clear that Mormonism is bigger than the LDS Church.

(4) Students seemed to be interested in who the Association was led by. It was important to some students that the Association was led my self-identified Mormons. Several questions were asked about my specific affiliation with Mormonism and the LDS Church.

(5) There seemed to be some hesitation toward overstepping our bounds as followers of God. The word hubris wasn’t used, but the idea was hinted at. I had to remind the class that in Doctrine and Covenants that our participation is mandated in building the Celestial Kingdom and that the earth “may be prepared for the celestial glory…that bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever.” I also included a short commentary about “faith without works is dead.”

(6) Some students failed to recognize religion as distinct from theology, and institutions as distinct from religion. They are inter related, yes, but distinctly different. There was also a need to clarify that many other institutions and ideologies function as a pseudo-religion.

(7) There was a student that was skeptical of religion entirely and thought religion should have no place in Transhumanism. I introduced the idea of religion being a technology and that it is a powerful and effective process to mobilize large communities to accomplish great acts, both good and bad. Religion itself is neither good or bad, simply power. Plus fighting the human drive to be religious and create rituals is a fool’s errand. It’s far more effective to point that religious drive in the right direction than to try to rid people of it.

One thoughtful student of anthropology commented, “Mormon Transhumanism is fascinating. If there is any religion that is likely to survive into the future it would be them. A religion that cannot adapt will die.” I pointed her in the direction of the fine work of Jon Bialecki.

(8) Students were concerned about social issues and people having access to advance technologies. Some conflated religious moral codes with exclusivity. For example, if religion dominated transhumanism there could be a scenario where a homosexual would be denied immortality or aging treatments for being a “sinner.” Students were very much concerned with arbitrary religious moral codes taking over technological applications and accessibility. This is a legitimate concern—that’s one reason why we need more intersectionality and diversity in the Transhumanist movement.

(9) There seemed to be a divide between students who believed in agency and free will, and those that had a more deterministic view of humanity’s potential or demise, depending on the student’s utopian or dystopian view. Specifically, some seemed all too sure of a technological determinist dystopian future.

(10) Lastly, there was a tendency to conflate morality with moral codes. Class ended so I didn’t get a chance to clarify the differences. In short, moral codes are a set of rules people live by. Morality is the active process in which we reconcile diverse values and desires. The two are related, but not the same.
  

Key Terms Defined


Humanity+ (H+): is an international organization which advocates the ethical use of emerging technologies to enhance human capacities.

Technological Determinism: is the theory that a society's technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values.

Utopia: an imaginary place or time when all things are in a state of perfection.

Dystopia: an imaginary place or time when all things are in an unpleasant or bad state.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Transgender Children: Autonomy and Personhood

(This is a copy of a required research paper for Philosophy of Childhood.)

The far majority of the population is cisgender, meaning they identify with the gender they were assigned a birth,[1] which is usually predicated by the esthetics of the infant’s genitalia. Transgender is defined as a person who has a gender identity and/or gender expression that is different than their assigned sex.[2]

First, there must be a solid understanding of the three components of gender. People tend to use the word sex and gender interchangeably and incorrectly. Biological sex or sex is referring to the biology, anatomy, and physiology of the human body. Many people view sex as a binary concept with two concrete options: female or male. Five reproductive functions quantify a person’s biological sex, which includes chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive anatomy, and genitalia. Determining a person’s sex among these categories is not always as easy or binary as society would have us believe. A third biological sex, intersex, naturally exists in our human species. They do not fit into traditional female and male binary categories. Depending on how intersex is defined, roughly 1.7% of the world population intersex.[3]

The second component of gender is gender identity. Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being male, female, a blend of both, or neither. A person’s gender identity may be in likeness or contrast to their assigned biological sex. Different cultures have different gender identities and labels. Some labels include: non-binary, gender queer, bigender, trigender, pangender, agender, transgender, two spirit, or gender free. Prior to gender development in adolescence, it is quite common for children to play and experiment in cross-gender roles and performances. Some girls play with trucks and prefer boy underwear, while some boys prefer dolls and dresses. Non-conforming gender behavior is not necessarily and indicator that the child is transgender. However, if a child is insistent, persistent, and consistent in their gender identity for a significant amount of time, the child might be trying to communicate they are simply not gender variant or non-conforming, but transgender.[4] If a three-year-old boy insists they are a girl and their responses don’t waiver over the course of a year or two, the child is likely transgender. Although it is important to note that gender, like biology, is not fixed or stagnant. Gender variances can also be subject to change over the course of a lifetime. This is called gender fluidity. Some gender specialists suggest that roughly 1 in 500 children is significantly gender variant or transgender.[5]

Children, as early as age two, begin to gender identify with a parent of their same sex and through observation begin to mimic behavior and activities of that gender.[6] These children may also notice cross-gender humor and find there are societal expectations on what is considered unacceptable and acceptable gender behavior.

Unfortunately, attitudes and perceptions about childhood and autonomy can inhibit recognition of a child’s genuine and authentic desires that may contrast with socially constructed ideas of normal gender identity, expressions, and behaviors. Children can easily be dismissed as confused and are considered unable to have the capacity to know what they really want. However, at what point is any person capable of knowing what they really want? It’s interesting to think that a transgender child who is able to recognize the social taboo of acting in opposition to societal expectations and thus conforms to those expectations, is also seen as incapable of knowing what they want. A child’s ability to recognize social and communal repercussions and then to act against their gender identity as a means of conforming to society is a rather sophisticated thought pattern. Yet, these same children are often dismissed as unable to know what they really want. Who else is better qualified to determine their gender identity than the individual? On the other hand, if a child does have an authentic gender identity that is contradictory to their biological sex, what is the extent of the child’s autonomy to alter their play, performance, appearance, style, or even their body?

A recent study examined 32 transgender children between the ages of 5 to 12 years-old in which research methods included self-reports and implicit measures of each child’s gender identity. “The results indicated that the children thought of themselves in terms of their preferred gender identity, not their biological sex. In addition, the pattern of responses of the transgender children were similar to the pattern of responses from children who accepted their biological sex as their gender identity.”[7] In other words, the children were aware of the gender role expectations and their biological sex, but their gender identity simply didn’t align with social expectations. They were not confused; they were very aware of the situation and still chose a contrasting gender identity. It may seem surprising that preschool-aged children are aware that they have a gender identity that is different than their biological sex, but this also indicates the child is capable of understanding their decision.

Gender dysphoria is often associated with transgender children. However, dysphoria is not confusion. Gender dysphoria is also not dysmorphia. According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is the inner conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and that individual’s gender identity.[8] Some people describe gender dysphoria as feeling like they were born into the wrong body. Gender dysphoria may often be accompanied by distress, anxiety, and depression, but when transgender persons also experience discrimination, victimization, or rejections from family, friends, and peers this puts them at a higher risk for suicide than the general population.[9]

The third component of gender is gender expression. Gender expression is usually the external appearance of one’s chosen gender identity. This is expressed through various mannerisms, behaviors, apparel, style, voice pitch, speech, and even the way a person stands. Gender expression is mostly predicated on socially constructed ideals of what constitutes as masculine and feminine. Many people express some sort of androgyny containing both masculine and feminine qualities. Gender performance is highly subjective and varies across cultures, geography, time, and belief systems. 

To be clear, some gender expressions come with more risk than others. Some expressions are easily adopted and rejected, fluid, and changing. A transgender girl may enjoy wearing make-up and dresses, even though she does not indicate any desire to have her body altered through gender conformation surgery. While make-up can be washed off at the end of the day, hormonal therapies and surgical alterations should not be treated as lightly. A child may insist they are transgender, but to have the child undergo gender conformation surgery prior to the age of consent, which is highly disputable, would likely be a disservice to the child. There in the problem lies, paternalism is in contradiction to autonomy and agency. One could argue that paternalism overrides a child’s desire to physically alter their body and may, in fact, be a way to maximize future autonomy. This is a gamble. The minor may or may not change their mind in the future about what they really want, yet the same could also be said concerning adults. There are no easy answers. This is also not to say that hormonal therapies and surgical alterations should not happen for anyone under the age of eighteen either, just that paternalism and child autonomy is a delicate balance between protection and oppression.

For example, Ruby Rose came out as a lesbian at age 12 and identifies as gender fluid. At an early age she started saving money for gender conformation surgery for when she turned 18, but eventually decided against it. Rose explained in an interview, “When I got to 15 was when I kind of decided to get more into my body, and I shaved my head, and my mom was just like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on right now, but if you are happy, then do it.’ I decided to change the way that I dressed and talked and realized that I didn’t want to transition, I just wanted to be more comfortable in my own skin.” Now that Rose is a 30-year-old woman she’s stated, “I’m a woman … I want to have babies one day, so I’m glad I didn’t make changes earlier in my life.”[10]

Some children may be adamant about bodily changes while others aren’t. Some children may change their minds while others don’t. Sometimes respecting autonomy means being willing to listen, observe, and respect a child’s desires to help guide them for long-term options, which may or may not include hormonal or surgical interventions.

Critics tend to conflict gender dysphoria with dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder, despite them being two different concepts. Conflation is usually a tactic used to justify discrimination and marginalization of the transgender community. According to the Mayo Clinic, body dysmorphic disorder is considered a mental disorder in which a perceived defect or flaw in one’s body that is either minor or not observable to anyone else.[11] This definition is actually quite interesting, because millions of cisgender people who have undergone cosmetic, plastic, or reconstructive surgery could be considered to have body dysmorphic disorder, but for some reason it is the transgender population that gets incorrectly identified with body dysmorphic disorder.

An example of body dysmorphic disorder can offer additional insight into this topic. A 22-year-old man, Joe, believes that his perfectly normal right leg is grotesque and deformed to the point that he desires amputation. Medically speaking, there is nothing wrong with his leg that anyone else can observe other than his disdain for it. Psychiatric interventions fail to convince Joe his leg is normal. At face value, it may seem there isn’t a legal or ethical dilemma until Joe seeks out an orthopedic surgeon to amputate his leg. The man’s personhood is more than right leg, even if removed Joe would still be Joe, perhaps an even happier or more peaceful Joe. His identity does not reside in his right leg, nor does it reside at all. Identity is a process of existing that is composed of values and desires that cannot be limited to a singular body part, whether that is a leg or a penis. However, does Joe’s desires for amputation justify it? In this case, whoever Joe is, perhaps he would simply be better off without his leg. If Joe is an autonomous individual he can also give valid consent to have his leg removed of his own will and volition. However, even if Joe is not autonomous, perhaps it’s in his best interest to remove his leg anyway.[12]

Whose best interests are at stake anyway, if not the mental health and well-being of the individual? Does Joe know what’s best for Joe, even if it doesn’t conform to what others deem as best for Joe? Even if dysmorphia is comparable to gender dysphoria, does this necessarily indicate surgical intervention is wrong? Perhaps not. There are millions of people across the globe altering their bodies due to dysmorphic and dysphoric fixations to achieve specific esthetic standards, yet the far majority are not being diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder. However, at what age can a child give meaningful consent to such a physically altering change, especially one that cannot be reversed? Children are prone to change their minds, but aren’t adult too? Perhaps there are less risky ways of having the child continue to express and experiment with their gender identity without risky and expensive physical changes. After all, children are developing and changing, biologically and cognitively speaking, faster than adults.

In their early years, young children usually experiment in gender cross-play, while still conforming to gender expectations. Social learning theory suggests children learn these behaviors from parents, peers, and media, mainly by environmental factors from a punishment and rewards social system. Parents may reward children from appropriate gender behavior and even punish children for what is considered by some as inappropriate gender behavior, like telling a boy, “Stop crying like a girl.” Other examples include research that suggests parents underestimate the physical capabilities of their daughter.[13] Everyday interactions can create strong and powerful messages about how a child is allowed to express themselves with a socialized gender construct. According to cognitive theorists, children between the ages of two and five form strict gender stereotypes base of observation.[14] A transgender child may feel the need to repress, hide, or reject their gender identity for fear of punishment. Conformity is not necessarily a sign of resolution, but likely a sign of emotional intelligence that identifies gender cross-expression as a taboo or bad behavior.

During school years, children, especially boys, tend to be treated harshly and are rejected by peers for not conforming to social standards of normal gender expressions.[15] “The classroom itself can also strongly reinforce gender stereotypes. Even though teachers believe they show equal attention to both boys and girls, research shows that teachers spend more time with boys, give them more attention, both praise and criticize boys more, direct more follow-up questions to boys, and tolerate more bad behavior from boys than girls.”[16] Teachers may also unintentionally stereotype boys and girls by tasks they are asked to perform, such as asking boys to help move desks and girls to tidy up the class room or clear the white board.

Gender socialization, intentional and unintentional, in early child development can cause a great deal of distress to transgender children who struggle to find a balance between an authentic gender expression and social isolation from their peers, teachers and parents. Violation of gender stereotypes can result in harm, violence, or even death. In fact, in 2008 a 15-year-old boy was shot to death at school by a peer who was uncomfortable with this boy’s gender identity and expression which included wearing women’s accessories, high heels, makeup, and clothing.[17]

Bathroom using is another area of distress on controversy. In February 2017, the Trump administration withdrew federal protections for transgender students. Last year, the Department of Education and Justice, under the Obama administration, issued guidance that schools receiving federal funding could not discriminate students on account of sex, including gender identity. Thus, students could use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity.[18] While civil rights groups praised federal involvement, questions have been raised about federal involvement now that the Trump administration has lifted the ban against gender discrimination.

Schools across the nation have adopted more inclusive bathroom policies. The American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals all support a positive school culture where the safety of all students is valued while implementing gender inclusive policies.[19] Children having a support system at school that allows them to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity has become an important way schools are combating recent alarming statistics about transgender persons. Most recent statistics state that 75.1% of transgender students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression, 63.4% of transgender students reported avoiding bathrooms, and 41% of transgender or gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide.[20] These startling statistics may be enough to motivate some people toward change, but not everyone. Questions remain.

What is the role of government? Is this simply a matter of policy? Is the issue at hand really about bathrooms and locker rooms, or is it about discrimination of personhood? Perhaps the real question at hand is do these children have the right to autonomy and not just autonomy over their body, but over their minds and identity? Does a child have the right to choose their gender identity? Does a child have the right to personhood? If so, to what extent do transgender children have rights over their minds and bodies?

Some may cite studies showing that gender roles and behaviors are innate and predicated upon biological sex, but even so, they are not universal. As discussed previously, determining a person’s biological sex if far more complicated than simply glancing at an infant’s genitalia. Even if gender roles are innate and predicated of biological sex factors, does that mean deviation from these gender roles is any less innate? If the biology of a human being determines a person’s gender, shouldn’t the same argument apply to transgender persons? Is their biology also not the product of being transgender?

There is also the dilemma of how to address the autonomy of children in self-disclosure, we also can’t ignore the very real harm and dangers that can inhibit a transgender child from a more authentic gender expression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, being Transgender is not a psychological disorder,[21] yet dogmas and stereotypes persist. This can make it difficult for trans children to recognize or come out to themselves.[22] Coming out as transgender can be an extremely difficult experience for a child. Children are often told by well-meaning adults “just be yourself” without recognizing the seriousness of the risks involved. Oddly, many transgender children comprehend the risks involved and that is exactly why they are experiencing depression or anxiety. It is because they are aware that these feelings persist. This issue of self-disclosure and peer-disclosure can be quite complicated for a child and can be even more complicated for a child whose parents practice heavy paternalism. If a child prefers privacy, but the parent does not, the child may be even less likely to disclose their identity to their parent. If the child does not have control over whom to disclose, the safest solution then is to remain private about their gender identity. This also requires a quite sophisticated line of thought that indicates a child is not confused, but aware. Conversely, if privacy is emphasized by the parent, the child may develop feelings that their identity is something to be ashamed of.[23] Children must be in control over whom and when they disclose private information about their mind and bodies or else there will be little chance in developing an authentic relationship with the child.

In closing, transgender children don’t solely need protections, but they also need trust, autonomy, and responsibility. As the transition process progresses, transgender children need to be in an environment where their agency is respected and autonomy honored. Transitions for transgender children can be taken thoughtfully and slowly; not simply as a product of paternalism, but as a means of maximizing potential options for the future. However, paternalism should also not become an oppressive tool to which a child loses a sense of control over their identity. Children are capable of communicating their authentic desires when others are willing to observe and listen.



*Note to my transgender or non-binary readers: My perceptions and opinions are based upon academic research and my own subjective experience. If you think I have inaccurately represented the queer community, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to learn more about your unique experiences.


Notes and Citations



[1] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Cisgender,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender. “Cisgender (often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. Cisgender may also be defined as those who have a gender identity or perform a gender role society considers appropriate for one's sex. It is the opposite of the term transgender.”

[2] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Transgender,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender. “Transgender people are people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Transgender people are sometimes called transsexual if they desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another. Transgender is also an umbrella term: in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are genderqueer, e.g. bigenderpangender, genderfluid, or agender). Other definitions of transgender also include people who belong to a third gender, or conceptualize transgender people as a third gender. Infrequently, the term transgender is defined very broadly to include cross-dressers, regardless of their gender identity.”

[3] Intersex Society of North America, “How common is Intersex?” ISNA, accessed February 12, 2017, http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency. “Anne Fausto-Sterling s suggestion that the prevalence of intersex might be as high as 1.7% has attracted wide attention in both the scholarly press and the popular media. Many reviewers are not aware that this figure includes conditions which most clinicians do not recognize as intersex, such as Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, and late-onset adrenal hyperplasia. If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female. Applying this more precise definition, the true prevalence of intersex is seen to be about 0.018%, almost 100 times lower than Fausto-Sterling’s estimate of 1.7%.”

[4] Human Rights Campaign, “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics,” accessed April 16, 2017,  http://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-children-and-youth-understanding-the-basics.

[5] Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper, “The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals,” (San Francisco: Cleis Press Inc., 2008), 2. “No one knows how common transgender children are. Some gender specialists say that one in 500 children is significantly gender-variant or transgender. This may be a reasonable statistic, though the rate may actually be higher. Older studies, based only on statistics of postoperative transsexual men, say that the number is closer to 1 in 20,000. This figure is disputed by adult transgender activists today and seems to bear little relevance to the transgender and gender variant children currently coming forward.” Perhaps that as society evolves to be more accepting of the transgender population, those that are gender variant or transgender will be more likely to self disclose, not that transgenderism is necessarily more common.

[6] Janell L. Carroll, “Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity,” 4th Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), 100.

[7] Sarah Grison, Todd F. Heatherton, and Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Psychology in Your Life” 2nd Edition (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015), 359.

[8] American Psychiatric Association, “What is Gender Dysphoria?” accessed April 16, 2017, https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria. “Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender. People with gender dysphoria may often experience significant distress and/or problems functioning associated with this conflict between the way they feel and think of themselves (referred to as experienced or expressed gender) and their physical or assigned gender. The gender conflict affects people in different ways. It can change the way a person wants to express their gender and can influence behavior, dress and self-image. Some people may cross-dress, some may want to socially transition, others may want to medically transition with sex-change surgery and/or hormone treatment. Socially transitioning primarily involves transitioning into the affirmed gender’s pronouns and bathrooms.”

[9] Sarah Grison, Todd F. Heatherton, and Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Psychology in Your Life” 2nd Edition (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015), 360.

[10] Julie Mazziotta, “Ruby Rose Is ‘Glad’ She Didn’t Get Gender Reassignment Surgery: ‘I Want to Have Babies One Day.’” People, January 20, 2017, accessed April 17, 2017, http://people.com/bodies/ruby-rose-glad-didnt-get-gender-reassignment-surgery/.

[11] Mayo Clinic, “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” accessed April 2017, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder/home/ovc-20200935.

[12] Charles Foster & Jonathan Herring, “Identity, Personhood and the Law” (Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2017), 61.

[13] Janell L. Carroll, “Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity,” 4th Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), 92.

[14] Ibid, 93.

[15] Ibid, 100-101. “Overall, boys are treated more harshly than girls when the adopt cross-gender characteristics. […] During the school years, gender roles become the measure by which children are judged by their peers. Children who violate sex-typed play are usually rejected (and not kindly) by their peers. This is especially true of boy, who experience rejection from their peers when they violate gender stereotypes than girl do.”

[16] Ibid, 101.

[17] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Murder of Larry King,” accessed April 16, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Larry_King.

[18] Ariane de Vogue, Mary Kay Mallonne, and Emanuella Grinberg, “Trump Administration Withdraws Federal Protections for Transgender Students,” CNN, February 23, 2017, accessed April 15, 2017,   http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/22/politics/doj-withdraws-federal-protections-on-transgender-bathrooms-in-schools/.

[19] Gender Spectrum, “Transgender Students and School Bathrooms: Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://www.genderspectrum.org/bathroomfaq/. “This resource is endorsed and supported by the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. While this may be new to some educators, parents, and students, this document builds on the successful experiences of educators throughout the country who have skillfully implemented gender inclusive policies, including those related to bathrooms. Enacting these policies allows school leaders to support the needs of all students.”

[20] Gender Spectrum, “Transgender Students and School Bathrooms: Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://www.genderspectrum.org/bathroomfaq/.

[21] Sarah Grison, Todd F. Heatherton, and Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Psychology in Your Life” 2nd Edition (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015), 160. “According to the American Psychiatric Association, being transgender is not a psychological disorder. Instead, psychologists are increasingly viewing people who are transgender as experiencing normal variations in gender identity.”

[22] Nicolas M. Teich, “Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue,” (New York, Columbia University Press, 2012), 30. “Realization that one is trans can take anywhere from a few moments to several decades. Usually transpeople have an inkling early on in their lives that their assigned gender feels out of whack with their bodies. The self-realization process is extremely complicated. The human mind does its best to help us survive, which can translate into triggering intense denial.”

[23] Nicolas M. Teich, “Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue,” (New York, Columbia University Press, 2012), 138. “Revealing this level of personal information is something that needs to be navigated. Transgender children from a very early age learn to read safety in a situation and use this information to decide how much to reveal, and how much to keep private. Privacy can develop into shame if the need for privacy is driven by the parents—the communication to the child is that there is a secret to keep. Secrets breed shame. However if the desire for privacy comes from the child, and the parents encourage the child to test the waters of self-disclosure when it feels right, because there is nothing to be ashamed of, the child is much less likely to choose privacy due to internalized shame.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

Philosophy of Singularity: Week 1

(Image credit: The Host)

For the next six weeks I will be taking a special topics course, Philosophy of Singularity. This is the first post in a series of five where I will share my notes, definitions, summaries, commentary and reading assignments from class lectures and discussions. These posts are living documents that I may edit, adapt, and develop as I gain more insights throughout the semester.


Class Summary and Personal Commentary

Required Reading
 The Coming Singularity by Vernor Vinge

Technological Singularity is a version of the future that is dependent on technology when self-replicating or self-improved machine intelligence or AGI, artificial general intelligence, will surpass human capacities in unfathomable ways. “When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities.”

According to Vernor Vinge, there are several means in which the technological singularity may occur: (1) the development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent, (2) large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity, (3) computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent, (4) biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.

Possible consequences could be that a superintelligent artificial general intelligence may have no need for humans at that point, any more than humans need rabbits and chickens. If you look at the way our species treats other species of lesser intelligence, this should be enough to question the consequences of a superintelligent artificial general intelligence. We could be chickens in slaughter house, pampered house pets, or ants minding our own business in a colony that is only noticed until we need to be exterminated. Many dystopian science fiction writers have explored these possibilities. Some futures include the human species as a casualty to punctuated evolution or punctuated equilibrium. (See more evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould.) The idea is that the purpose of the human species is to usher in the next evolving species, then go extinct at mercy or apathy of the more advance species.

I. J. Good proposed, "Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors." This may seem meaningless an paradoxical, but if we are capable of such a benevolent state it may assert the possibility that such radical benevolence and compassion is possible, including a superintelligent agent. There could be a theoretical pay off to radical compassion.

However, AGI is not the only possible path to superhumanity. Vinge suggest that commuter-human interfaces might be an easier and/likely road to superhumanity. As our technology advances we will merge. Vinge calls this “Intelligence Amplification.” (IA) This process, in many ways, has already begun to take place.

Transhumanism is the philosophical, scientific, and technological movement where humans evolve or surpass physical and cognitive limitations, to the point where humans are no longer humans, but posthumans. Vinge comments on increased cognitive capacities, “Another symptom of progress…ideas themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will quickly become commonplace.”

Transhumanism is one possible solution to survive the punctuated evolution instead of going extinction. There’s no way to know when humanity has gone from transhuman to posthuman, without being able to conceive of it. Humanity cannot conceive of posthumanity until we become it, or rather when we become posthumanity. Posthumanity would have superintelligence that exceeds the most gifted human minds.

A posthuman (or posthumanity) is a human so radically evolved beyond the current state of the human condition that a new term would be warranted. For example, hominids are to humans, as humans are to posthumans.

Technologies, broadly defined, are tools and techniques created by humans to accomplish objectives. Various key technologies exist and may eventual converge make in the technological singularity possible. Technologies play an essential role in Transhumanism and the development of posthumanity. As technologies continue to develop and evolve they will overlap and merge. Some even content there is a technological determinism, meaning technologic evolution has developed a life if its own, so to speak. It has already been determined. Is the singularity inevitable? Not, necessarily. It may not be possible. “But if the technological Singularity can happen, it will.”



Key Technologies Defined


Computers: a devise that when instructed can carry out a logical operations automatically. Often thought as, an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.

Quantum Computing:  “studies theoretical computation systems (quantum computers) that make direct use of quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. Quantum computers are different from binary digital electronic computers based on transistors. Whereas common digital computing requires that the data be encoded into binary digits (bits), each of which is always in one of two definite states (0 or 1), quantum computation uses quantum bits, which can be in superpositions of states.” (Wikipedia) In other words, a computer that makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information.

Superposition: “In physics and systems theory, the superposition principle, also known as superposition property, states that, for all linear systems, the net response at a given place and time caused by two or more stimuli is the sum of the responses that would have been caused by each stimulus individually.” (Wikipedia) For example, the presence of electrons orbiting the atomic nucleus existing in a single field within infinite possibilities is superpositioning. Electrons are in a superposition in an electronic field everywhere and anywhere all at the same time in the electric field. Once light, a photon, is shined on the electronic field the electron will show up at that exact point of the photon and all other possibilities will disappear. The multiverse theory suggests that all other possible points of the electron will show up in an infinite number of other universes or multiverses.

Artificial General Intelligence: broadly, when a machine is capable of performing a task that a human being can. Also called “strong AI” or “full AI.”

Turing Test: A test developed by Alan Turing to test the intelligence of a computer by performing a task that in is distinguishable from a task performed by humans.

Neuroscience: an interdisciplinary field including biology, biochemistry, physiology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and psychology, that scientific studies the nervous system.

Nanotechnology: technologies with dimensions of 100 nanometers or less, on the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale.

Nanorobotics: machine robotic technologies that components near the scale of a nanometer. Nano technologies are still largely in research and development phase. Dystopian views of nanobots include “grey goo.” Essentially nanobots would radically self-replicate and consume the earth in an end-of-the-world scenario. Utopian views of nanorobotics include nonbots that could inter your body and repair damage indefinitely, essentially end aging.

Genetic Engineering: manipulating genetic material with deliberate modifications to an organism.