Digital Humanities Lecture Series

DH Mecha is not Orga

Mecha is not Orga: The Fiction of AI and the AI Industry

Date & Time: Wednesday, May 1st, 2024, 4-5pm
Location: TBA


This talk considers the fictional roots of recent claims of AI as an existential risk that have been making headline news. Dating back to Alan Turing, literal readings of fiction, including the threat of superintelligent machines taking control of the world, have long shaped the AI industry. With no basis in science, I argue that this irrational anxiety serves not only as a distraction but as an unconscious defense as it substitutes a new object, autonomous machines, in place of one that cannot be acknowledged, the environmental and societal damage caused by a resource-intensive industry heavily invested in a mechanistic worldview that treats nature, including humans, as a lucrative commodity. The second part of the talk, traces two of Stanley Kubrick’s film projects and their shifting understanding of this technology. If 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) takes seriously intelligent enigmatic evolving machines, A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) recounts a dark corporate fairy tale about the production of mechanical androids (mecha) that persists despite the climate crisis.

Speaker: Dr. Teresa Heffernan

Teresa Heffernan is Professor of English Language and Literature at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, NS, where she teaches courses in literary theory, critical posthumanism, feminist theory, and the novel. Her current area of research is on how the field of robotics and artificial intelligence is shaped by fiction. She has been awarded a Visiting Public Humanities Faculty Fellowship at the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto (January 2024). She has also been a visiting Fellow at CAPAS, University of Heidelberg (2022-23), and a Visiting Professor at the AI Lab, Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto (2019-20). Her books include: the edited collection Cyborg Futures: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Palgrave (2019); Veiled Figures: Women, Modernity, and the Spectres of Orientalism (2016); and Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth-Century Novel (2008/2011). Her articles have appeared in journals such as AI and Society, Studies in the Novel, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Arab Journal for the Humanities, Subject Matters, Canadian Literature, Twentieth Century Literature, and English Studies in Africa. She runs the website:


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