[extropy-chat] Changing sex is difficult (was: identity and copies)

Eliezer Yudkowsky sentience at pobox.com
Mon Sep 20 01:40:54 UTC 2004

Spike wrote:
> No of course not. I would *want* a copy of me to exist.  We like 
> us.  We could entertain ourselves for hours, just telling each 
> other jokes for which we already know the punchlines.  If I
> could have a *female counterpart* otherwise identical copy, 
> now that could *really* be a lotta fun.  {8^D  

"Otherwise identical"?

Spending a week as a member of the opposite sex is a favorite item on my 
ever-growing list of "Things transhumanists say they want that are much 
more complicated and dangerous to actually do than to rattle off as short 
English sentences."

Let's assume we're talking about an M2F transformation.

Want to spend a few days wearing a female body?  Even at this very shallow 
level, we're dealing with some fairly massive remappings of the somatic 
map, the motor map, the reflexes, the motor skills, the somatic connections 
to the pleasure centers... and when all of that was done you'd have a 
vagina-shaped penis.  You wouldn't *be* a woman.  You'd still be attracted 
to girls, and no, that would not make you a lesbian; you'd be a normal, 
masculine man wearing a female body.  Xox yourself, and the version of you 
wearing a female body will flee from the original body and pursue Cindy 
Crawford.  The xox certainly wouldn't have sex with *you*.  Bleah!

Want to actually *be* a female?

Swapping out your Y chromosome for your father's X chromosome doesn't make 
you a woman.  Your neurons are already wired in a male pattern; you 
developed from birth in the masculine pattern.  Maybe if you swapped the 
genes, your neurons would slowly start to rewire themselves under the 
influence of the new genetic instructions.  Maybe you'd end up epileptic. 
At best you'd end up as a half-assed cross between male brain and female 
brain.  Your brain wouldn't look anything like it would look if you'd 
developed as a female from the beginning.

Leave aside, for the moment, the question of childhood memories and 
experiences you don't have; the fact that you'll have never been a little 
girl and won't know how to apply makeup.  If you want to be female, we need 
to give you a female brain; female emotions, female psychology.  We need to 
do this while preserving your memories and skills that were patterned onto 
male brainware, male emotions and male psychology.  Imagine the task of 
taking an eighth-dan blackbelt in judo, and transforming his body to 
female, while preserving his martial arts skills in such a way that he is 
still a competitive eighth-dan blackbelt.  It's not just spinal reflexes; 
he has conscious, learned memories for how to fight as a man that don't 
apply to fighting as a woman.  As with motor skills, so with cognitive 
skills.  You know how to operate a male mind; do you know how to operate a 
female mind?

We're talking about a *massive* transformation here, billions of neurons 
and trillions of synapses rearranged.  Large enough to disrupt personal 
continuity?  If I fell asleep and woke up as a true woman, not just in body 
alone, I don't think I'd call her "me" - the change is too sharp.  Will 
your brain transform gradually?  Hm, now we have the task of designing the 
intermediate stages and making sure the intermediate stages make 
self-consistent sense.

What happens when, as a woman, you think back to your memory of looking at 
Cindy Crawford photos as a man?  How do you empathize with your own past 
self of the opposite gender?  Do you flee in horror from the person you 
were?  Are all your life's memories distant and alien things?  Or do we 
retain your old male brainware through the transformation and set up a dual 
male-female structure such that you are currently female but retain the 
ability to recall and empathise with your past memories as if they were 
running on the same male brainware that originally laid them down?  Sounds 
complicated, doesn't it?  It seems that to transform a male brain into a 
person who can be a real female, we can't just rewrite you as a female 
brain; we have to rewrite you as a more complex brain with an architecture 
that can cross-operate in realtime between male and female modes, so that a 
female can process male memories with a remembered context that includes 
the male brainware that laid them down.

To make you female, yet still you, we must step outside the human space of 
mind designs in order to preserve continuity with your male self.

And then when you go back to being a man, you need to keep the female 
brainware and dual architecture so that you don't throw up when you think 
back on all those wonderful sweaty men you had sex with during your 
feminine vacation.

(Assuming you did have sex as a woman, rather than fending off all comers 
because they didn't look like they were interested in a long-term 

So spending a week as a member of the opposite sex may be a common sexual 
fantasy, but I wouldn't count on being able to do this six seconds after 
the Singularity.  I would not be surprised to find that it took three 
subjective centuries before anyone had grown far enough to attempt a gender 

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                          http://singinst.org/
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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