Upper-Division Seminar: Artificial Intelligence

Course Number: ENGL 197
Prerequisites: Upper-division standing, English majors only
Advisory Enrollment Information: This course cannot be repeated and is limited to upper-division English majors only.
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 197
Quarter: Spring 2018
Day(s): MW
Time: 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Location: SH 2617

By most accounts, the advent of artificial intelligence carries radical consequences for humanity. In particular, the prospect of artificial intelligence taking control of its own development has inspired widely differing reactions, including both apocalyptic nightmares and boundless, optimistic wonder.  Approaching works about AI through the lenses of science fiction and trauma studies, this course will provide an opportunity to survey select literature, film and television speculations regarding the implications of this evolution in technology.  The questions posed by these works include: how will being human change with the arrival of AI?  What might humanity’s relationship to artificial intelligence grow into, given that AI is likely to evolve in unpredictable ways?  Will AI come to look upon humanity as a partner? A perpetual child? A pet? A virus? Perhaps most crucially, how is humanity preparing itself and AI for the transition – how is humanity promoting (or not) a sense of kinship?  As literature, film and television speculate about living with AI, why are human and AI characters repeatedly presented as witnesses of trauma, and what do the works in question convey about the vicissitudes of empathy?  About the power of loss, even imagined loss, to build coalitions?  Students will explore these and a wide variety of other questions as they discuss the course materials and produce capstone research projects.  In the process, the seminar will engage scientific and cultural history, criticism, and theory in order to build a context for our research projects.  Authors will include: Judith Butler, Ted Chiang, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Louisa Hall, Donna Haraway, Jeff Hawkins, N. Katherine Hayles, Ray Kurzweil, and Dori Laub.  Films and television will include: Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina, Westworld and Black Mirror.  Students will write brief daily assignments, a research paper, and a final exam.