My talk on caring AIs in recent sci-fi novels

I’m giving a talk at an actual f2f academic conference today, Critical Borders, Radical Re(visions) of AI, in Cambridge. I was particularly excited to see this conference because it’s organised by the people who edited AI Narratives A History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines, a really useful anthology of essays on stories about AI ranging from the Ancient Greek myths about the autonomous machines Hephaistos built, via medieval ideas about magical mirrors and golems to twentieth century scifi.

Thumbnail image of PDF handout for my talk.

Here is the PDF Handout for my paper “Artificial Intelligence is Social and Embodied: AIs that Care in Contemporary Science Fiction”. I would love feedback, if you have any – I’ll be revising this before it eventually hopefully ends up as a full paper. I’m presenting at 13:20 UK time today, and it’ll be streamed (and I think archived?) on YouTube here, with the many other interesting talks happening today.

Yesterday I was able to sit in an actual auditorium and hear Ruha Benjamin speak, and today the conference itself starts. It’ll be live-streamed on YouTube as well and about 2/3 of the speakers will be remote. It’ll be interesting to see how a hybrid conference works.

My paper is about eleven science fiction novels published in the last five years where caring AIs are main characters:

AuthorTitleYearAI character
Becky ChambersA Closed and Common Orbit2016Sidra, Owl
Annalee NewitzAutonomous2017Paladin, Med
Martha WellsMurderbot series (2017-21)2017Murderbot
Neal Shusterman Thunderhead2018Thunderhead
Yudhanjaya WijeratneThe Salvage Crew2018Amber Rose 348
Ian McEwanMachines Like Me2019Adam
Carole StiversThe Mother Code 2020Rho-Z (Rosie)
Bjørn VatneDød og oppstandelse2020Oda
William GibsonAgency2020UNISS (Eunice)
S. B. DivyaMachinehood2021Welga/dakini
Kazuo IshiguroKlara and the Sun2021Klara

I’m using this to explore how actual (non-fictional) AI is also always social and embodied. This is a work in progress, and I’m trying out the Mumford Method, where you write up a concise handout, present using this several times, revising the handout each time to integrate feedback, and then write it up as a full paper when the ideas are throughly worked through.

If you’d like to look at my thoughts, I would really love feedback, as this is very much a work-in-progress.

I usually just start writing without a clear idea of where I’m going, which often works well, but also often requires a LOT of work and confusion when I’m revising, and has led to many abandonned half written papers. So I’m curious as to whether this method will work for me. I’ve enjoyed writing the handout – I like the constrained space and having the whole structure laid out. It really makes me think about what the point of the paper is rather than just writing out bits I enjoy. I do wonder whether the very concise style of writing will affect my final writing style though. Will I end up less essayistic than I’d like?

Here is the video feed from today’s conference – I’m in the 13:20 panel (UK time) today.

19. October 2021 by Jill
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