A.I.: Artificial Intelligence in Fiction

Course Description

From self-driving cars to bots that alter democratic elections, artificial intelligence is growing increasingly powerful and prevalent in our everyday lives. Fiction has long been speculating about the techno-utopia—and catastrophe—that A.I. could usher in. Indeed, fiction itself presents us with a kind of A.I. in the many characters that speak and think in its pages. So what constitutes an “intelligence” within literature or technology? In either field, is it ever possible to overcome the problem of other minds? Is there an ultimate boundary that demarcates bodies from machines? This course will begin with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Maelzel’s Chess Player” (1836), then proceed through works such as Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (1950), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Stanford lecturer Scott Hutchins’s A Working Theory of Love (2012), including a possible visit from Hutchins. Throughout, we will be asking ourselves what makes someone—or something—a person in our world today.

Course Details

  • Grading Basis: Letter Grade or Credit/No Credit
  • Unit-Range Information: 3 units for students outside of major and for students who want to transfer units to their home institution; 5 units for students in major to count toward major program requirements.
  • Limited Enrollment Details: Flexible on enrollment cap, but the cap helps keep the course at a seminar level and provides a better ratio of students per instructor.
  • Intensive Studies: This course is offered as part of the Thinking About Thinking and Technology and Innovation Intensives and must be taken for 5 units. Although it is a qualifying course for two Intensives, it will only count towards one Intensive's course requirements. See the Intensive Studies page for more information on how to receive an official Document of Completion.
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