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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Robot Madness: Science and the Literary Imagination


Anxieties about scientific paradigm shifts manifest themselves in the form of anthopomorphized machine-human interaction; namely the presence of robots in film and television.

Beginning with the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1928), and ending with Alex Proyas’ film interpretation (2004) of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (1939), this paper examines television series and films that feature anthropomorphized machines, either as robots or androids. Works examined include Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1928), Lost In Space (1965, the first season), Star Trek: The Next Generation, George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), James Cameron’s Terminator series, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), Steven Spielberg’s A.I. (2001), Dr. Who (1984 season), Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958), Susan Seidelman’s Making Mr. Right (1987), and others.

A comparative analysis of the works, along with texts that deal with the paradigm shifts accompanying the advent of computation, machines, and then artificial intelligence, is presented. Specific texts include Paul Thagard’s Conceptual Revolutions (1992), Computational Philosophy of Science (1988) and articles from Computational Epistemology, Daniel C. Dennett’s work “Can Robots Think” and his work in The Robot's Dilemma: The Frame Problem in Artificial Intelligence (1987), John Searle’s Minds, Brains, and Programs, and the work of Jerry A. Fodor and Fred Dretske.

A close analysis of the film and television “texts” from the perspective of paradigm shifts relating to cognition, computation, and artificial intelligence reveal not only anxieties about “intelligent machines,” but also a desire to control by anthropomorphizing machines and to reinstate politically-charged servant-master roles in a post-colonial fantasy.

The film texts listed above suggest the ways in which certain paradigm shifts are envisioned and described in a popular discourse of explanation.

Further, with robots as symbols of paradigm shifts, the multiplicity of interpretative possibilities vis-à-vis human society and one’s understanding of nature and the self are problematized.

Needless to say, at the heart of most representations are profound questions about what it means to be human, and, conversely, how technological change in society dehumanizes or bestializes humans, leaving androids as the sole owners of human dignity. (This is the abstract from a presentation made at the AGLSP conference, 2004).

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