Teresa Heffernan, professor of English at Saint Mary’s University, will give a talk at the upcoming HAL-CON science fiction, fantasy and gaming convention, a multi-format event attended by some 9,200 people in 2017. Dr. Heffernan’s talk, “Fiction Meets Science: Ex Machina, Artificial Intelligence and the Robotics Industry,” is scheduled for 6:15 pm, Friday, October 26, 2018. Location: Room 502, Ballroom level 5 at the Halifax Convention Centre — 1650 Argyle Street, Halifax, NS. For information and tickets go to HAL-CON.com.
ABSTRACT: The conflation of AI and fiction in the cultural imaginary helps to drive the fantasy aspect of the robotics/AI industry that encourages the view that there is no difference between a computing machine and a human. If fiction offers an exploration and interrogation of the shifting terrain of what it means to be human, the industry’s overly literal readings of fiction fetishize the technology, strip it of its cultural and historical context, and claim it for the here and now. While the industry exploits fiction to help animate machines and bring them to “life” in the name of a certain technological future, it erases the “fictiveness” of the fiction that keeps open the question of the future and what it means to be human.
My talk–“Fiction Meets Science: Ex Machina, Artificial Intelligence and the Robotics Industry”–will argue that we need to restore the gap between the literary and scientific imaginings of AI and robots. Resisting literal readings of fiction, it considers the ways in which metaphors shape our reading of humans and other animals. For instance, in the field of AI, rather than the computer serving as a metaphor for the brain, the brain has come to serve as a metaphor for the computer. The film Ex Machina, as a modern day Frankenstein story, exposes the consequences of this metaphor that reduces humans to computing machines that in turn entraps them in an algorithmic logic under corporate control. In this film, it is not Ava, the programmed machine, that is the subject of the experiment, but rather Caleb who finds himself locked in the robot lab by the end of the story.