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IBM's Teri-is-a-Girl-and-Terry-is-a-Boy Patent 277

Posted by kdawson
from the how-about-lee-and-robin dept.
theodp writes "The USPTO has granted IBM a patent for utilizing naming conventions to assign gender-based avatars for instant messaging. A user named Teri, IBM explains, would be given a girl avatar, while a user named Terry would be provided with a boy avatar. The three IBM 'inventors' were stymied by users named Pat, who as a result will be assigned a 'generic, genderless human figure image as his or her avatar.' Way to honor that significant-technical-content patent pledge, Big Blue!"
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IBM's Teri-is-a-Girl-and-Terry-is-a-Boy Patent

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  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:31PM (#25633833) Journal
    What about odd spellings?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by catch23 (97972)

      Yeah, what about Xie Hua? Is Xie a male or female?

      • by amRadioHed (463061) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:40PM (#25633975)

        Xie would be the last name. Unless you mean is Xie Hua male or female. Either way, Hua sounds feminine to me.

        • by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:55PM (#25634177) Journal
          Either way, Hua sounds feminine to me.

          You haven't seen many films about US marines, have you?
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by catch23 (97972)

          Why would Xie be the last name? I know someone by this name, and Hua happens to be the family name (I'm Chinese btw). I also know someone by the name of Xie Chen. (obviously Chen is the last name here). In the first case, Xie Hua is a guy, in the second case, Xie Chen is a girl.

          • by catch23 (97972) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @07:22PM (#25634439)

            Also I might note that in some cultures, there is less of a male/female oriented names. My sister and I were named off of a variant of the jade stone, which probably has little to do with me being male, or my sister female.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            If you're Chinese you should know better-- we put the family name before the name.
          • A Chinese name would have the family name first as you obviously know, and so I was making the assumption that the proper name order was being used. In that case the name would have to be either a family name of Xie and a given name Hua, or it could be a two character given name "Xie Hua". Either way the rather feminine Hua would be in the given name.

            Of course if the the poster was using western name order and Hua was the family name then yeah, I wouldn't attempt to guess the gender of the person. Xie seems

            • Either way the rather feminine Hua would be in the given name.

              Contrary to popular rumour, and "a" ending on a name isn't necessarily feminine in all societies.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by amRadioHed (463061)

                The sound of the name has nothing to do with it. As ChameleonDave points out, it is usually considered a feminine name in Mandarin because it can mean flower.

          • Heh, I just noticed you were the original poster, so I guess we can assume that the western name order was intended.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Better question, what kind of avatar would xx13g0l4zxx get?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bieeanda (961632)
      You mean like my aunt Terry, who would be categorized as a man by that system?
    • by ozamosi (615254) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:41PM (#25633985) Homepage

      My name is Robin, which is basically exclusively male here in Sweden (I've never met any females called Robin, but it's among the top ten most common boys names), which is mostly male in England, and which is mostly female in the US.

      Oh, and I run all my software in (US) English.

      I'd like to see the software that figures out the gender of all the Robin in the world!

      • by orclevegam (940336) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:56PM (#25634189) Journal
        Likewise Kyle, which although often male, is occasionally used as a female name. Then there are those that come up with entirely new names, or that use nicknames, or handles to contend with. Yeah, sorry, this sounds like it's utterly useless, you've taken what once was a simple question of "Are you male or female?", and turned it into "Based on your name our software thinks you're X, is this correct?". All they've done is taken a simple question and reworked it so that it makes a potentially embarrassing/insulting/annoying assumption about a person, which then needs to have steps put in place to insure that it's made the correct assumption, all for the sake of avoiding a simple binary question.
        • Yeah, what about all those Dion/Dionne pairs? (Male/Female).

          However, 70% of names with "sh" in the last syllable and 4 vowels are female. (Laetisha, I'm lookin' at you honey!)

        • Yeah, sorry, this sounds like it's utterly useless, you've taken what once was a simple question of "Are you male or female?", and turned it into "Based on your name our software thinks you're X, is this correct?".

          I don't think it tries to guess your gender, I think it tries to guess the gender of the user you're talking to. So instead of you thinking, "I wonder if this person is male or female?" it suggests: "Kyle is from North America and this is usually a boy's name." Of course, "Kyle" is a bad exampl

      • I'd like to see the software that figures out the gender of all the Robin

        I'd like to see bureaucracies and creditors here in the US that could remember that I'm a Mr Robin and not a Ms. I was born during WW II and named after Robin Olds, an ace pilot, so it's not as if I haven't been here a while.

        A lovely little clerk once teasingly asked me if I was sure I was male. An offer to have a look at my genitals was declined (dammit!) but she was a good sport.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by phatvw (996438)
      Why such a narrow patent? Why not patent an algorithm recognizing the patterns in English names in general to be applied in any User-interface rather just in an IM client?
      Also what is this bit about a "database storing anthroponomastic information to perform the anthroponomastic analysis of the username of the first user to determine the probable gender" Is that a table of known names vs gender stats based on public records? Or is it name fragments and endings matched to probability of gender? For example
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        And if its just a table of public records with gender assignments, is the following logic really patentable? "SELECT gender FROM names WHERE name=$name" if(count == 0 || gender == "neutral"){ return neutral.jpg; }else if(gender == "female"){ return female.jpg; }else{ return male.jpg; } I hope my psuedocode isn't breaking the law!
        • by phatvw (996438)
          Nice mix of SQL and C pseudo code there :) Expect to hear from IBM's lawyers about licensing their patent shortly :)
      • by PaulBu (473180)

        Reminds me of a little project I did for one of my CS classes: try to predict nationality by last name. Was going along the same lines, take names, enclose in, say, $ and ^ (to mark beginning and end), then chop into up to 5 or so character blocks and accumulate frequencies of different blocks by nationality (learning data pulled from different countries universities phonebooks).

        Worked surprisingly well too...

        Paul B.

      • aside from algorithms being non-patentable, you would need a different algorithm for every culture. also, many cultures don't have strict rules for assigning genders to words/names. language is already pretty idiomatic, but names are even more so. a database of common first names would be simpler to implement.

        either way, they shouldn't have been granted a patent on such an obvious/trivial non-invention. this doesn't contribute anything to the body of human knowledge shared by our society. it's like patentin

    • RTFP (Score:4, Informative)

      by The Amazing Fish Boy (863897) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @07:19PM (#25634411) Homepage Journal
      The whole point of the patent is that it's for cross-cultural communication, not just for English names only. It's not a totally unreasonable idea. It sounds like it looks the user's gender up based on where they are from and what their name is. Odd spellings would likely be classified as unisex, unless there were a general rule for naming conventions (e.g. In North America, names ending in 'i' are likely to be female.) Furthermore, you could build up your 'odd spelling' database by recording the gender people select for themselves.

      The example ozamosi posted below [slashdot.org] would be covered fairly well by this patent: Robins in North America would be classified as female, but Robins from Sweden would be classified as male.

      My criticism of the invention's effectiveness is that it's not completely fool-proof, and would inevitably assign the wrong gender for people with the spelling typically adopted by the opposite gender. It might be a worse "faux pas" to address a male as female (or vice versa), than to leave assumptions of their gender out of the picture. Of course this might vary from culture to culture, and I really don't know about that. It might be more effective to just force the user to input their gender, but this would have to be done on every client, which could be problematic.

      Of course, I'm not sure whether we should be assisting the enforcement of "societal conventions" based on differences in gender, but that's a different topic from the invention's effectiveness.

      By the way, here's the relevant part:

      an expansive list of names compiled from those used in many different cultures catalogued according to gender (that is, male, female, or unisex), a list of rules for associating a username not included in the list of names with a particular culture, and a list of rules derived from naming conventions that are employed in many different cultures catalogued culturally, linguistically, nationally, regionally, and/or according to other relevant anthroponomastic criteria.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      What about odd spellings coupled with gender ambiguity...like Jayne Cobb?
    • I'm still trying to figure out how you can patent something based on facts and statistics...
    • Bad news for all the people who use Scottish spellings of their name I guess. A lot of women named Manrika are going to be pretty annoyed.
  • I know a Terry... (Score:3, Informative)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:38PM (#25633941)

    who is going to be very irritated when it's assumed she's a boy.

    • [I know a Terry] who is going to be very irritated when it's assumed she's a boy.

      Yet I imagine that mistake is still preferable to calling her generic and genderless.

    • by QuasiEvil (74356)

      And I have an ex-girlfriend who goes by "Mel" (real name Amelia) who's probably also going to be annoyed at being mis-identified.

      • by jc42 (318812)

        I have a friend named Melanie who is known as "Mel", and I suspect that she'd just think it funny if a computer decided she's male.

    • Yeah... my wife Terry would agree with that sentiment.
  • Strange (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The filing date is February 28, 2008.

    The only way a patent gets through that quick is 'Accelerated Examination' (decision in 1 year or less).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by eln (21727)

      Apparently IBM is in a big hurry to start offending people by misrepresenting their genders.

  • Standard Behaviour (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:39PM (#25633961)
    Like most companies, IBM is only 'not evil' when it's extremely convenient, or there's some marketing value to be had.
    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @07:39PM (#25634623) Homepage

      Geeze, here we go again. Listen, patenting stupid crap isn't evil. *Suing* other people for your stupid crap patents is evil. Countersuing other people for violating your stupid crap patents after they've sued you for violating their stupid crap patents is simply a business reality these days.

      Big companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Novell have to patent any little thing that floats into their heads that the patent office will let them patent. They all do it, and the purpose is mostly for the sake of maintaining a defensive-patent war chest to keep the other big companies at bay with mutually assured destruction.

      Start complaining about them being evil when they sue someone.

      • If a company wanted to do assign avatar gender based on name in a program, the safe route for them is to avoid it altogether, rather than give IBM the opportunity to sue. But in this case, it's something incredibly obvious and someone else could have come up with independently (and probably did).

        As of today, the situation is that a company like Microsoft with plenty of its own patents can afford to risk it, or easily convince IBM to let them license this for free. A startup does not have that luxury.

        Patenti

  • What, do they watch old Saturday Night Live episodes [wikipedia.org]? ..bruce..

  • by msauve (701917) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:39PM (#25633965)
    the name Bambi?

    It's commonly thought of, and used, as a girl's name, but in one of its most famous uses (the movie) it's a male name.
  • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:42PM (#25633995) Homepage Journal

    Give me a break, no one uses names like "Jill" and "Steve" for their avatars! They use names like xXDeath_StalkerXx and KillMurder_415 and awesome stuff like that. This patent ain't worth a case of Bawls.

  • Maybe they should ask these guys [pubpat.org]? May I suggest this [pubpat.org] as an obvious avatar for Pat?
  • with the first name Tracy. I wonder what they assign him?

    This is just trouble waiting to happen. When ever you try to assign gender on anything except the Chromosomes it will fail.

    • Not even that. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot.kadin@x[ ].net ['oxy' in gap]> on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:55PM (#25634169) Homepage Journal

      When ever you try to assign gender on anything except the Chromosomes it will fail.

      Actually it fails pretty spectacularly when you try to determine it based on chromosomes, too. There are XY women with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), and both XXY and XYY men. In many cases, especially those of AIS, they may go their whole lives without knowing that their chromosomes convey something different than their sex organs.

      And using sex organs starts to fail as well when you get into intersexed and transgendered people; someone's sex organs may not match the gender they 'pass' as in social contexts, or that they prefer to be treated as.

      It is anything but a black and white issue.

      • Re:Not even that. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by shermo (1284310) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @08:17PM (#25635031)

        I always thought it was a black and white issue.

        You simply refer to people how they want you to refer to them.

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        Screw the prior art argument - just bring this guy along to explain that it simply won't work so why bother. Instant retraction.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by syousef (465911)

        Actually it fails pretty spectacularly when you try to determine it based on chromosomes, too. There are XY women with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), and both XXY and XYY men. In many cases, especially those of AIS, they may go their whole lives without knowing that their chromosomes convey something different than their sex organs.

        I agree it's difficult to assign a gender (if you only allow male, female) to an XY woman with AIS since you have external female appears with internal undescended testic

  • by Kingrames (858416)
    What about Kingrames? would they erroneously give me a pharaoh's hat and pimp cane?
    • Maybe they'd assume it was a typo of Ving Rhames, in which case you'd get a nice suit, some wire-framed dark sunglasses, and an air of awesomeness onscreen.

      • Maybe they'd assume it was a typo of Ving Rhames, in which case you'd get a nice suit, some wire-framed dark sunglasses, and an air of awesomeness onscreen.

        Or an appropriately small, pixelated version of a certain scene from Pulp Fiction. Possibly resized and resampled by (wait for it)....

        Bringing out the GIMP!

  • A lot of prominent organizations on the internet are somehow posting in /., clearing doubts about the stuff they do - either openly, like some, or anonymously, like some others.

    i wouldnt even want to think that ibm thinks they are above us. im looking forward to someone explaining the bullshit going on with those patents either openly, or anonymously here.
  • Leslie, Tracy, Sam? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @06:53PM (#25634145) Journal
    I wonder where that leaves, Leslie Nielson, Tracy Lawrence, Charlie Dore, Alex McKenna, and the like.
    • by dwye (1127395)

      > I wonder where that leaves, Leslie Nielson, Tracy Lawrence, Charlie Dore, Alex McKenna, and the like.

      With Michael Learned (Mrs. Walton from "The Waltons" series, for those forgetting).

      BTW, as I read the patent, one of the rules make "Penny" a man's name, as well :-)

  • I call it worthless.

  • The three IBM 'inventors' were stymied by users named Pat, who as a result will be assigned a 'generic, genderless human figure image as his or her avatar.'

    Congratulations! It's a patent!

  • by Cajun Hell (725246) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @07:07PM (#25634293) Homepage Journal

    It's amazing that they analyze [wikipedia.org] the name so hard. I would just throw a database at the problem. It's inconceivable that IBM doesn't have a shitload of demographic databases around, which already have name-sex pairs. Just select sex, count(*) where name='terry' group by sex. If the ratio is overwhelming in one direction, choose that, and if the margin of error is too high (and I'd set that pretty low to avoid pissing off Miss Pat), pick neutral. That would work with any language, too (assuming IBM has a database for that culture).

    • You can also quite easily take into account ethnicity.

      "Jean", American. FEMALE
      "Jean", French. MALE

      You can also quite easily take into account age.

      "Sam", 12 years old. GENEREIC
      "Sam", 56 years old. MALE

      You can also quite easily take into account surnames.

      "Mary Valentine" FEMALE
      "Merry Brandibuck" MALE

      You can also quite easily take into account titles and suffixes.

      "Princess Shackba" FEMALE
      "Tam Jr." MALE

      If you've got the data, add in known pseudonyms, or middle names.

      "Chris" AKA "Christopher

  • I dare you.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Atriqus (826899) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @07:14PM (#25634357) Homepage
    IBM, I dare you find a name where there's no one also by that name of the opposite sex.
    • Superman.

    • by JSBiff (87824)

      I dunno, but in my experience, I've never met a girl named Jeff, Thomas, or Richard. Still, some parents go out of their way to ruin their children's lives with bad names. On the same vein, I've never met a man named Betty, Julia, or Karen. You might be able to stretch the point by going cross-cultural. Their very well might be names from other parts of the world which sound similar to common North American/European names, but which are gender neutral or gender-reversed from their American/European counterp

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Shin-LaC (1333529)

        I wonder what the origin of that difference is?

        American girls keep stealing boys' names. No, seriously. Check out chapter 6 of Freakonomics [wikipedia.org].

    • by yarbo (626329)
      Dweezil
    • by ookabooka (731013)
      A woman named Dick?
  • by dwye (1127395)

    How is this about "rights"? Especially since the patent claims that the user can override the selection, later?

    If you ask me, this belongs in Idle

  • one mouth says it supports open source, and freely rewards its code to the community

    the other crafts junk patents for software that may never be written, magical ideas, and imaginary property..

    is there some kind of intervention for this shit?
  • What about a boy named Sue?
  • by Yuan-Lung (582630) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @08:39PM (#25635293)
    ...to just ASK the user during the sign up?

    Are you [ ]Male [ ]Female

    Would you like to use a avatar that is
    [ ] Male
    [ ] Female
    [ ] Generic Genderless
    [ ] Tentacle Monster
    [ ] Cowboyneal
  • Would that software return an appropriate avatar for ssj4chan?

      And because I don't know if I want to be modded funny or interesting.

      Would it return a brown skinned guy I say Raul? what about Abdul, Cole or Hiro? Do I smell a lawsuit?

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @09:10PM (#25635535)
    My friends Gail and Carol might have a problem with this method, since both of them are male... Sam and Mel might have problem too, since Sam is short for Samantha and Mel is short for Melonie.
    I prefer the solution used in the interactive game "Leather Goddesses of Phobos": at the start of the game, you have a sudden urge to use the restroom. Your gender for the rest of the game depends on which restroom door you choose.
    Really, I think arbitrarily guessing people's gender is just going to alienate them when you guess wrong.

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