When I started writing AI Apocalypse, I had to deal naming and discussing multiple AI characters. Since biological genders could, in theory, be meaningless to AI, once approach would be to give them names at random, and use only gender-neutral pronouns.
I’m fine with using “they” as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun. “It” can also work, but it’s somewhat distancing. In the end, I felt like using gender-specific pronouns because that brought my closer to the characters.
That begs the questions of how the AI get genders when they don’t start with any. I believe they start gender-neutral, but can choose the gender pronouns they want applied to them. Although we don’t see it in the books, I’m imaging that there’s some aspect to their online profile/reputation that indicates preferred gender pronouns. So we could, in theory, have AI that identify as it, he, she, they, or something else entirely.
I thought this was a pretty novel explanation. Until I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my kids the other night, and we saw The Offspring (Season 03, Episode 16), the episode in which Data creates a child android named Lal. And what does Lal do? She starts out gender-less, and then chooses a gender after making observations.
I’ve seen every Next Generation episode, many more than once, but didn’t remember this episode at all. But it must have influenced me, but this was exactly how I imagined the AI in the Avogadro Corp universe to behave.
I think a lot of science fiction influences me that way: concepts linger over many years, even though the details of where something came from fade away.
By the way, I only recently learned that Japanese has gender-specific name endings, and “ko” is reserved for female names. So Shizoko, from The Last Firewall, is properly a female name. Woops. Sorry to all Japanese speakers out there. If you want an in-universe explanation, I’m going to say that Shizoko was previously identified as female, but changed her gender while keeping her name. 🙂