“Now There Is”: What We Think When We Think about Machine Thinking

Vision & Objectives

What does it mean for so many of us to be caught up in a collection of files that pass from one machine to another and are processed into other kinds of files? Is the invisibility of it all–and invisibility that is effectively magic–to us? In this course we take up the question of artificial intelligence, but not in the embodied form of robots and droids–e.g., Robbie or R2D2–but in the form of faceless, disembodied entities like UNIVAC or Deep Blue.



Paper. The final paper in this class asks you to reflect on the methodological work we have done in terms of understanding texts and the topical considerations for the term – in this case how we imagine “artificial intelligence.” Your objective is to complete by the end of the semester an essay which takes up a text, or several texts, that we did not discuss in class and examine it for its representation of how intelligences, human and artificial, relate, reflect, refract a particular concern, anxiety, question or some other topic of your choosing. The paper must be grounded in textual evidence and that evidence must be presented in a contextualized fashion and a considered sequence such that your audience is “naturally” led from your initial proposition to agreement with your thinking on the matter.


Primary Texts

Date Text
1909 E. M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” PDF / txt / Wikisource
1946 Murray Leinster, “A Logic Named Joe” PDF / txt
1945 Isaac Asimov, “Escape!”
1970 Philip K. Dick, A Maze of Death
1970 Colossus: The Forbin Project (film) (Wikipedia)
2016 HBO’s Westworld (based on the 1973 film by Michael Crichton)
1966 Billion-Dollar Brain (book, film)
1983 WarGames (film) (Wikipedia)
1999 Smart House (Disney film)
2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence (film) (Wikipedia)
2006 Daniel Suarez, Daemon
2013 Her (film) (Wikipedia)
- The Machine (British film)
2014 Automata (film)

In addition to the texts above, the Wikipedia entry on Artificial Intelligence in Fiction is well worth your time.

Considerations and Coverage

Franklin, H. Bruce. 1983. Don’t Look Where We’re Going: Visions of the Future in Science-Fiction Films, 1970-82 (“Ne cherche pas à savoir où on va”: les Visions de l’avenir dans le cinéma de SF de 1970 à 1982). Science Fiction Studies 10/1: 70-80. JSTOR.

Goldman, Steven L. 1989. Images of Technology in Popular Films: Discussion and Filmography. Science, Technology, & Human Values 14/3: 275-301. JSTOR.