All Women in AI History Must Have a Male Escort

We need to talk about the history of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The history of AI is built on institutions that privilege an unspoken understanding of normal, and maintain a conveniently forgetful retelling of history. Ada Lovelace is a cultural icon in computing, thought to have written the first computer program in the 1800s. When Russell and Norvig mention Lovelace in the Chapter 1 of the book Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, why do they feel compelled to mention Lord Byron? When they mention Lord Byron, how is it they forget to mention that he abandoned her and her mother? When they mention Lord Byron, why do they forget to mention that Ada’s mother hated Byron so vehemently that she forced Ada into mathematics to spite him? Why do they forget Ada had no substantial relationship with her father? It seems that no woman can enter the venerated halls of history with a dick to claim her.

It’s important to mention that Lord Byron has no direct connection to artificial intelligence at all. But if the authors thought including his name was crucial for our understanding of AI history, why didn’t they think it was important to mention that Gottlob Frege, the famous and AI relevant logician, was anti-Semitic and a budding Nazi? This fact is certainly more relevant than the mere existence of a man who donated sperm to the birth of Ada Lovelace.

You see, when Russell and Norvig started this section, they mentioned that there was too much to cover, that they would have to skip over stuff. The problem is how they decided what made the cut. Their choices are steeped in an unchecked understanding of normal, a normal where sexism is within the important history but calling out the prejudice of white men is outside of it.

This reading reminds me just how important feminism is in computer science research.  In my research I will build off of the scholarship of women, of people of color, of disabled scholars, queer scholars, trans scholars, and post-colonial scholars. Who you cite and how you write about people matters.



S. Russell and P. Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, vol. 9, no. 2. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1995.



2 thoughts on “All Women in AI History Must Have a Male Escort

  1. Hi Arielle, again. This post makes me curious about what’s been going on with the Feminist Programming Language concept. What else have you gotten since you posted about it on HASTAC so long ago? Do you have any general ideas or principles formulated yet which could guide the construction of such a programming language?

  2. Hi again Mike,

    Sorry this reply is so delayed. I wish I had more news to bring you. I do not currently have the resources to pursue the Feminist PLs project full speed ahead. The theoretical component of this project is nontrivial and still in progress.

    When something changes, I will definitely post about it.


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