In this course we will trace artificial intelligence (AI) in literature and film from the industrial revolution to the ‘hive mind’ of rave music and the age of the Internet. What is the proper response to the prospect of ‘dehumanization’, and to the absorption of individual identity into mass culture? In attempting to answer this question, writers and filmmakers often find themselves asking what it means to be really human, and how the natural can be effectively distinguished from the manufactured, or culturally constructed. The deeply ambiguous image of the female and/or racialized robot takes on particular importance in more recent critical theory, cinema and fiction. We will also examine the more optimistic readings of robotic intelligence, some of which see manufactured Internet identities as democratic celebrations of what Pierre Lévy calls “the unstable and multiple.” Can AI serve as a platform for enhanced political agency, providing a dynamically expressive space for female, minority, LGBTQ, and other—possibly transhuman—voices?
Readings will include E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short stories about automata, Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, Karel Čapek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots, Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods, Louisa Hall’s Speak, Marge Piercy’s He, She and It, Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun, and selections from Zadie Smith, Jean Baudrillard and contemporary cyberpunk fiction. Films will include Metropolis, Blade Runner, Ex Machina, The Matrix, Sleep Dealers, and selections from the series Battlestar Galactica.