Fall 2021 Undergraduate English Courses

358:275 The Cultural History of Now

01  CAC  MTH 11:00-12:20 PM   03119   GOODLAD   HH-A6

The Culture of Now is a rubric for a series of courses devoted to exploring the cultural history of issues of pressing global concern. In this version of the course, AI and the Human, students will explore literary and other cultural texts (including narrative fiction, film, serial television, memoirs, and interviews with leading experts) while learning about artificial intelligence more broadly. Over the last decade, following a number of significant “machine learning’ breakthroughs (such as AlphaGo’s defeat of the world’s best human Go player), talk of artificial intelligence (AI) has made a comeback. But AI means one thing in novels such as Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Her, and Ex Machina than it does in the boardrooms of Silicon Valley or in the "smart" devices that populate our world. AI and the Human will help students to recognize the difference and, thus, to critically engage this new cultural, technological, and social phenomenon. Designed to hone critical thinking, cultivate appreciation of narrative art, ask big questions, and sharpen effective research and communications skills across disciplinary divides, AI and the Human will provide an accessible introduction to urgent topics of ethical, scientific, and humanistic concern.

Students will learn to distinguish between hype and the actual state-of-the-art, “narrow” and “general” intelligence, as well as human and machine capacities for pattern finding. They will survey the history of artificial intelligence research broadly, from Alan Turing’s famous essay on the “imitation game” to the contemporary synergy of “deep learning,” “big data,” and “surveillance capitalism.” They will read literary and cultural works from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Jeannette Winterson’s FranKISSStein—including (in addition to those works already mentioned) excerpts from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, the first season of Altered Carbon, and excerpts from Anna Wiener’s memoir, Uncanny Valley. The main graded assignments for the course are a mid-term and a final project which will involve the writing and potential publication of an original analysis of a work of narrative fiction and/or technological achievement.