"But it nevertheless remains true that both a mind without a body and an immortal man are strictly inconceivable..."
-Simone de Beauvoir
The Second Sex, 1949
Looking back at 1949, when the age of computing was just beginning, it is easy to understand why it would be difficult to conceive of the possibility of disembodied minds. Today, however, it is very easy to conceive of "a mind without a body." This is an artificial intelligence, a concept that has worked its way into the general understanding of the public.
The context of the quotation is within a discussion of the biological necessity of sex differentiation, whether humanity is defined by being divided into "man" and "woman". In my mind, however, the question that is raised is one about the nature of sex and gender in the future of humanity.
Both Hans Moravec, in his book Mind's Children, and Ray Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines postulate a future in which the human body will become obsolete and will be discarded in favor of technological alternatives. Moravec envisions humanoid robots, whereas Kurzweil describes a world comprised entirely of a "nanobot mist", but both agree that the essence of personhood, the mind, will be converted into software form and preserved indefinitely.
In a future where technology replaces biology, clearly sex, the biological construct that separates male from female, will cease to have meaning. But what about gender, the social counterpart that distinguishes between masculine and feminine?
In the dialogues that comprise the last part of his book, Kurzweil converses with Molly, a person of the future. Although her physical body no longer exists, she still clearly conceives of herself as a woman. Her lover, George, originated as a purely software artificial intelligence without any biological sex, and yet he is still clearly a man.
Is it possible that the construct of gender can exist entirely separate from biological sex? What is the nature of gender when it is applied to beings that exist without any connection to biology?