- Course Number: ENGL 146AI
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- Advisory Enrollment Information:
May be repeated for credit provided the letter designations are different.
- Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 146AA-ZZ
- Quarter: Winter 2021
Agency, one of the key literary and philosophical problems, has a new dimension in the era of so-termed artificial intelligence. So, too, the old question—what is the value and purpose of human life—resonates differently when considered in light of mass automation. The imagination, and the realization, of artificial entities is not new (whether golem, monster, robot, or even mutant plant), but the exponential developments in machine and deep learning over the past decade, along with an evolving understanding of cognition, do invite us to reevaluate the mythologies we have built up around them. What texts and concepts inform our understanding of intentional action and life itself in the present? What might articulating an arc that bends from the mythological Galatea to DeepMind’s game-playing AI, MuZero, illuminate with respect to the categories of “human” and “machine,” and the relations between them? How, if at all, does the conversation shift if we introduce notions of plant sentience? How, in sum, does literature help us to think through non-human intelligence? No technological knowledge is presumed for this class, but students should be prepared for some research and discussion of unsupervised learning and natural language processing, with concrete reference to such topics as image recognition, machine translation, large language models, and deepfakes. However, primary course material will be films, art works, novels, stories, and essays. Reading will likely include Samuel Butler, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Norbert Wiener, William Gibson, N.K. Jemisin, Sue Burke, possibly Liu Cixin, and others.
This course counts as an elective for the English Department’s Literature & Culture of Information (LCI) specialization for English majors.