Now, if you have any clue about me (or had at least traveled with me twice, or asked me about my favourite things in life), you would know that I would lose an arm to be Michio Kaku. And that I absolutely love his work. I owe this man for bringing physics back to me, who has made me feel less of a Failed Physicist-Wannabe. This man is one of a handful of theoretical physicists who have de-mystified phsyics and quantum mechanics for regular human beings. He is one of the few scientists who actually take a stand against nuclear weapons and war. He is one of the even fewer physicists who write about women physicists and the lack of such women in the world of physics. This is a man who may not necessarily be gender-sensitive or feminist, but is not a sexist.
This is how I've always perceived Michio Kaku, so I was absolutely gutted when last night's play painted him as a sexist loser who designed "Molly" the highly-sexualised female robot straight out of sexist geek fantasy. First things first, Kaku is a theoretical physicist. His life's work is the M-Theory (one of the major strands of the Theory of Everything, whom he also calls "The Mother of All Theories"). He is not an applied physics person. I can't imagine him building a robot at all. I've heard about photos of him and the robot he invented, Molly, who was a mechanical Angelina Jolie of sorts. I have never seen that photo of Molly.
Secondly, here's a clarification of how Kaku wrote about Molly the robot: 2020 Vision (the 4th article on the page). I have to rely on the internet for actual quotes at the moment, I don't have my bookshelf with me (I haven't had it in over a month, in fact). I have read Kaku writing about Molly before, but she had never struck me as a highly-sexualised mechanic representation of the dirtiest male fantasies (of a subservient woman with big tits). It's been a while since I revisited "Visions", Kaku's book around the future of science and tech where he talks about Molly, but I've always thought that Molly was kind of like the voice in your head that reminds you of things and makes your life easier and safer. Not necessarily the sex-bot that was acted out in last night's play. I think our own discomfort at male girl-robot fantasies were assigned to last night's Molly, which resulted in Kaku being totally villified. Which is unfair.
Lastly, I've been thinking about last night's Molly and some of the points that were raised about a year ago when I was doing a gender evaluation training for a software localisation project.
So Nepal, 2007. We were talking about the fact that in text-to-speech software (which was particularly useful for illiterate communities), the male voice was much easier to use. It has to do with the differences in the decibel and frequency ranges of women's and men's voices. According to the geeks, in Asia, we did not have the skills and capacity to work with a female voice in text-to-speech software (the skills are available in the US, they said). This results in the absence of (literally) female voices in software that is localised in Asia.
We, the gender advocates in that meeting, said that it was important for women users (especially those who were dealing with their own fears of tech) to be able to hear voices in their software that they can relate to. Simply put, there must be a way to have female voices in the localised text-to-speech software.
So back to Cape Town 2008. If the premise is that having female voices in technology is empowering to women, why then do we have a problem with female-looking /-sounding robots? Wouldn't such an entity be empowering to women as well? Wouldn't such a creature be something that we can relate to as women (as opposed to a male robot)?
Or is the problem we have with Molly the fact that she was presented as a thing that did household work? That she had big boobs last night? That she was highly-sexualised?
Or is the problem because Michio Kaku is male and he was represented as having created her? Is this a problem even if nothing of Kaku's work point to his sexism?
Would Molly and Michio have been saved from ridicule and mockery if they had switched sexes?
Tags: activist stuff, awid08, awid2008, feminist rambling, geekery, pop culture, reviews of everything, tripping away, women and tech
coordinates: cape town
state of mind: grumpy
background noise: people buzzing at the FTX Hub