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Patriarchy in women’s circles

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I love a good online course and as part of the latest one, Hagitude by Sharon Blackie – a supposed women’s empowerment group for women entering the second half of life – I went to an online talk the other night given by self-styled sacred activist shaman Manda Scott, and was really looking forward to it.

Scott started straight away with the end of the world is nigh and climate change, and told us to read The Dawn of Time. I was feeling quite depressed and a little anxious until she shifted into a long diatribe of how artificial general intelligence (AGI) is about to take over the world because it is only a matter of time until ChatGPT evolves into AGI. At which point she lost all credibility in my eyes because AGI doesn’t exist and, ChatGPT is a large language model (LLM), which works just like predictive text. It cannot ever evolve into AGI because it is an LLM and all it can do is pattern match and predict the next word using probability and statistics.

She sat there calmly spreading fear and ignorance and then started with her answer to all this threat to our humanity. She said the answer was to bang your gong and feel in your bones that the men can turn it around at the last minute, as the young lads told her they would. Turns out she is a lady novelist who read a book about climate change, and then went on a podcast with ‘smart’ young men who told her all these things, and that really if we want to know about AI we should listen to that podcast.

Then, she invited comments in the chat so I said: I said that I have worked in AI since 1992 and I totally disagree, which was mainly for the benefit of the other ~ 90 women on the call who don’t have my background and trusted this woman, who at that precise moment was using her platform to spread fear and ignorance because she didn’t know anything about it.

Shut up, Ruth

Blackie, who organised this seminar as part of a year long course for us women: to speak up and stand in our truth and be the wise elder hags and changemakers society needs, at this point chimed in and said that: AI was off topic and if I (Ruth) had anything else to say that I should take it to the online community – she calls it that but really it is a message board, as she shows up there intermittently. It’s there basically for us women to write down what we know and she can mine it for her next book. And, what a repository it is, thoughts from over ~600 women between 40-90 years old which we have paid to create – very smart, when we signed up for the course last September, we had to sign a terms and conditions that states it all belongs to her to use as she desires in perpetuity.

I didn’t really get why AI was off topic when we’d just had to listen to about 20 minutes of nonsense of how it was going to take over the world but since Scott led us through a meditation, I sat quietly until she invited us to share our thoughts. I put my hand up and said: I’m Ruth and I am the one who said about AI. She immediately shut me down saying that Blackie said you can’t talk about AI. So I started again, with a bit of fluff for her ego (she had been talking about ‘social technologies’ so I said we could code them up), so she would let me speak and then I said: Artificial general intelligence is…. And she shut me down again telling me to listen to some podcasts inferring then I might know enough then: you can’t talk about AI. I then said that I believe we need to get more women in tech.

What I really meant – but I was flustered at this point – was that women need to know about computing so that they don’t believe everything they hear but she butted right in to tell me that she had spoken to a woman in IT who runs her own company and knows all about that and that the only women who will ever get into IT are those who set up their own company to put the world right and she was on a roll guiding me to success with unsolicited, ignorant advice. I didn’t bother saying that I used to run my own company, I just said: I already work in IT, and would have said more but Blackie then DMed privately in the chat at that moment – to clarify, Ruth, AI is off-topic

Basically: Shut up, Ruth, me and me mate don’t give a shit about your knowledge and experience, it’s our time to shine, Manda has listened to two podcasts so she is the AI expert not you – you are off topic. So, I pushed my mute button, and I sat there stunned as Scott talked about big egos and judged the next lady as not having one… I can tell you don’t, she said, pompously, as the self-appointed judge and jury of egos.

From the very first seminar I attended back in October, it was clear that Blackie is very patriarchal (comments in Goodreads say she’s a TERF too, I didn’t get that far in the Hagitude book, and I can’t face rereading it to check.). She’s very much a my road or the high road person and shuts people down every call, brusquely, claiming time constraints, but will then in the next breath share, at length, anecdotes about herself. If someone asks a question about something she hasn’t explained properly or challenges her authority she tells them it’s off topic and to buy her other courses to educate themselves and then come back.

The feminine divine

My only experiences prior to this in lady women empowerment circles was the Fairytale Medicine which was run by Claire Jasmine Beloved, a highly skilled amazingly empathetic facilitator, who says it took years to become this way. I have the deepest respect and loyalty for her. A year with her was deeply healing, as were the several courses I did with the amazing yogi and feminine divine guru Sally Kempton who sadly died this week. I know what powerful feminine divine energy is, which is nothing to do with gender, I’ve sat in circle with it thanks to both these women.

Hagitude is not that.

After the call ended, I went to the forum and wrote a post saying: General Artificial Intelligence is not coming anytime soon ( I’ve seen it written both ways GAI and AGI, as it’s not a precise definition, made up 1997 and changes depending on who uses it ) as I have written here on numerous occasions in blogs such as: Westworld and the ghosts of AI and Chit Chat, Chitty Chitty Chit Chat, ChatGPT amongst many others. Then I presented my credentials – I have a PhD in AI and HCI, I have worked as a programmer and a consultant and a university lecturer and researcher etc., and I began working in AI in 1992, so I’d like to think I know what I am talking about it.

Some of the women on the forum thanked me openly and privately for my input, as they weren’t sure what to think, AI is a hot topic and it is important to know fact from fiction, and also no one wants to be seen as going against Blackie. We also had a little share about how she isn’t great at holding space for others, and doesn’t seem to appreciate the time and wisdom the women who show up have because they are lovely like that, polite and respectful, but also reassuring: This isn’t healthy. That said, I assume like me, they appreciate that this forum exists at all and so put up with it. We learn from each other as that is the point of any gathering.

These people are experts, Ruth, who are you?

Blackie replied to my post, by cutting and pasting an article from CNN with the headline: Experts are warning AI could lead to human extinction, which is not where I go for accurate AI discussion, (I read the original documentation and I take a look at the code) referring me to:

The letter signed by hundreds of AI experts and industry leaders….

The letter she is talking about is one paragraph on a webpage at safe.io which was written to provoke a discussion and to get some attention it doesn’t say anything and I don’t think she had even bothered to click through to read the page. As she then said:

…So are you disagreeing with them all ?

I disagree regularly with Bill Gates and Daniel Dennett as a matter of course. But as a matter of professional reputation, I had no choice but to write back and point out her patronising tone: They are experts, Ruth, who are you?

She also said:

 I guess when the founder of Chat GPT issues warnings of impending Armageddon, people are going to be worried anyway.

So I wrote back explaining that OpenAI which owns ChatGPT was set up by entrepreneur Sam Altman, who set up Reddit and YCombinator before that, and has received funding from Elon Musk and Bill Gates amongst many others and the comments she is probably referring to are the ones which were quoted extensively when he was testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, and when: ‘…pressed on his own worst fear about AI, Altman mostly avoided specifics.’ 

Basically, he was there to distinguish between ChatGPT and social media platforms in order to duck the question of who owns what online especially when ChatGPT takes it all and many people are suing ChatGPT for stealing intellectual property and that could be costly. Of course he is going to shift the attention and say it’s out of his control otherwise he will have to take responsibility and admit to intellectual property theft.

Altman is an entrepreneur, someone who tells stories to get investors on board, a skill enterpreneurs are good at and which I blogged about in 2016, he doesn’t have specifics. And, since Gates started pumping money into Bard, OpenAI became a lot less open to retain the competitive advantage. To me this is just another example of the storytelling involved around AI to keep the money rolling in.

The one robot arm to rule them all

Scott was quoting Eliezer Yudkowsky who is an AI speculator who predicted that the singularity, that moment when artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence, would happen back in 2021 – something he has since deleted! I cannot say for certain but it did sound exactly like Yudkowsky was quoting directly from Yoshua Bengio’s imagination blog : https://yoshuabengio.org/2023/06/24/faq-on-catastrophic-ai-risks/ and Scott presented this as fact, because she doesn’t know anything at all and didn’t bother researching it before she got on a platform and spouted a lot of nonsense.

Personally, the main problem I have with Yodkowsky is that he dismissed Doug Lenat’s CYC ( an immense coding project which took 35 years to build) something I talk about in the Westworld robot blogs. I guess Yudkowsky has read some Marvin Minsky who dismissed CYC too. Minsky said we needed stereotypes to solve problems and I disagree with Minsky, too. Minsky built the first robot arm, the same sort which Bengio is saying could theoretically be built by AGI to take over the world and rub us all out. All it takes is one robot arm! Minsky also, like Elon Musk is said to too, believe in the Matrix theory – that we are all living in a computer simulation. Sometimes, I think Minsky said all this for mischief and to get people thinking.

Bengio works in machine learning, which is the opposite of knowledge-based reasoning with all the rules. CYC uses both as either one alone is too brittle and even then you need someone to go in and add everything else that is missing based on their years of learning. Bengio, in his imaginings, is saying theoretically all things are possible including the rise of the robots and I guess the fact we are all living in a computer simulation, if you step through it logically. I have to say I disagree.

Logic, to work needs rules, all of the facts and a closed world, or someone adding new rules in an open world, which would take us nearer to universal reasoning which is what humans do, something machine learning cannot do. Machine learning doesn’t write rules, it pattern matches. At this point Bengio ‘s speculation stops having any meaning for me, unless he could show me the code which could update itself in an open world in which logic-based rules model universal reasoning running on deep learning (machine learning with human interference) which then writes the code (generative artificial intelligence) to add more rules, which would automatically lead to AI building a lab to create robots (embodied artificial intelligence) which then all learn human habits and emotions to persuade humans to do their bidding before wiping them out. We don’t know how to model or yet code emotions because we can barely articulate them ourselves, it takes a lifetime to even learn and recognise our own feelings.

So yes, Sharon, I am disagreeing with an expert in machine learning because I have read and understood exactly what he is talking about, because of the time I have spent in that field over the last 30 years and, my opinion counts even if I don’t read CNN and take some young lad’s inaccurate hyperbole as the last word on AI.

Playground bullying

What I experienced over these last couple of days has felt more like playground bullying (you think you know better than them Ruth, they are experts, what do you know? ) than anything else which I added to the end of the message after I explained my position on AGI with a plea for ‘safe space’ regulations.

Blackie was quick to write a post back saying that she asks for tolerance and respect and abhors social media and people who claim bullying when someone is presenting an alternative point of view and as an elder hag her job is to encourage discussion.

Shutting people down without allowing them to express their opinion, DMing them privately to get them to shut up, and quoting CNN instead of reading what they have written, is not an alternative point of view or encouraging, nor is it respectful or tolerant. In her position of authority, she could have, if she felt that she wasn’t sneering or patronising or shutting me down in a patriarchal way, explained herself. She could have even given one of those I’m sorry you feel that way but… passive-aggressive apologies if she really felt I was wrong but wanted to be seen to be doing the right thing. But she didn’t, she went straight to revisionist history and a complete dismissal of my feelings about the way I had been treated because I wanted to present an accurate view on AGI.

Some women wrote underneath challenging her meanness towards me, but Blackie didn’t bother replying to anyone as I’ve said, that message board exists for her to mine all of the information these women have and put it in a new book (a couple of weeks later she deleted the whole message board even though she had said she was going to keep it up as an online community for the group).

I thanked a couple of the ladies who got in touch to point out that being shut down in a supposedly safe space where we are encouraged to stand up and speak truth is completely ironic and then I switched off.

I will be very careful about the next online course I attend and I really hope Manda Scott thinks twice before spouting anymore nonsense about how ChatGPT is going to turn into AGI and take over the world.


  1. I am a bit late commenting on this. I witnessed the above as part of the same program. I had mostly stopped following the course as, after a fabulous first lecture by Anne Baring, the content and the forum didn’t appeal to me. I dipped back in again and was online for this lecture and was disapointed at the way you were shut down both because of the way your were treated and because I really wanted to learn from an expert woman’s view on AI. Only much later did I see the discussion in the community forum (I was catching up the day before it ‘expired’). Thankfully it all brought me to your website which I am really enjoying reading. Thankyou for sharing your expertise and for writing this article.

    1. Hi Vanessa, thanks for your message and for reading my blogposts. I really appreciate you taking the time to say something about how I was treated that evening and I am glad you came here to read about AI/AGI. I still can’t fathom why Manda chose a topic of which she clearly knows nothing about when she could have talked about so many others things that she does know about and why Sharon, of all the ways she could have managed that, shut me down and then trolled me on her own forum in the name of being a wise elder. Heigh ho! She’s a one. If you have any questions about AI, please do not hesitate ask as all I really wanted that night was to make sure everyone heard some actual facts as well as the flights of fancy. All the best, Ruth

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