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Date of Award

8-2002

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Supervisor

Joseph Adamson

Abstract

Though this project is about representations of artificial intelligence (AI) in science fiction(SF), no discussion of 'artificial' intelligence could ever take place without considering 'real' intelligence. Consequently, at core and by default, this project is about human intelligence. Artificial intelligence throws into relief the essence of being human as a tripartite construction of body, mind, and their synergistic combination, by creating an intelligent, dialogical, and interrogative entity as a comparative Other.

Chapters one and two address two basic questions: What is science fiction? What is artificial intelligence? These evolve additional questions: How do science fiction writers delineate the physical and intellectual capabilities and capacities of humans versus machines (in the broadest sense), their comparative behaviours, and thereby, consider human methods for understanding our universe and our place in it? What place do SF writers imagine machine intelligence taking in our world? What are the ethical, moral, and social implications for human versus machine intelligence?

Chapters three and four consider how authors construct AIs, what physical forms they might take, and the relative importance of the body versus the mind. The imaginative creations are compared to actual develops in the science o f AI, thereby revealing some surprising prophecies. Discovered is that human beings are nervous about their own technological constructions, especially when those creations begin to match human intellect and mentation. Consequently, some of our worst bigoted behaviours are brought the fore. I designate two temporal periods as the 'animated automaton' (citing Frankenstein, Metropolis, R. U.R) and the 'heuristic hardware' (2001: a Space Odyssey, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Hitch Hiker 's Guide to the Galaxy, and I, Robot).

Chapter five focuses on a single narrative (Galatea2.2) as an excellent consideration of the current state of AI research and the development of ever more effective systems for processing information. It begins with observing a change in the scientific worldview and the change from energy to information as the fundamental reality. The AI challenges a human to recognize and acknowledge humanity's own despotic and parodic behaviours. By considering exactly how human beings learn, know, and remember, it throws into dramatic relief our own assumptions about the superiority of human intelligence.

Chapter six looks at post-1980 literatures (Neuromancer, The Matrix, The Diamond Age, and Terminator) and the influence of the personal computer on the imaginations of SF writers. The narratives' complexities increase and the boundaries between assumed 'reality' and 'virtual reality' erode. Human beings are clearly anxious about increasingly powerful thinking machines, probably because our confidence in the uniqueness and singularity of human intelligence is challenged directly. The connection between body and mind is, paradoxically, both broken and affirmed, thus forcing humans to find ways to understand the essence of consciousness, particularly as it may related to the 'soul.'

Ultimately, AI could teach human beings about ourselves, and may force us to more clearly define 'human being.' Potentially, though not an expressed goal, AI research could unify humanity globally and help us to help ourselves in re-structuring economic, educational, social disparity.

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