Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: July 16, 2021, 7:56 a.m. Humanist 35.145 - sci-fi & imaginative literature on AI

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 145.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-07-15 10:22:54+00:00
        From: Michael Falk <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.142: sci-fi & imaginative literature on AI

Hey Willard,

Probably an obvious comment, but Lem’s robot stories in “The Cyberiad” and the
English-language collection “Mortal Engines” are probably the classiest AI
stories in the canon. They are also more closely linked to the “concerns of the
human sciences” than many other sci-fi AI stories. It’s no surprise that
Hofstadter and Dennett included so many of Lem’s robot stories in their great
collection “The Mind’s I”. From memory, Lem was the only sci-fi writer included


Michael Falk
Lecturer in Eighteenth Century Literature | University of Kent
Adjunct Fellow in Digital Humanities | Western Sydney University

Sent from my iPhone

On 15 Jul 2021, at 10:31, Humanist <> wrote:

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 142.
       Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                               Hosted by DH-Cologne
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       Date: 2021-07-14 06:30:27+00:00
       From: Willard McCarty <>
       Subject: imaginative literature on AI

In 1965, Kurt Vonnegut wrote to the New York Times about how he,
then an employee of General Electric in Schenectady, New York,
"completely surrounded by machines and ideas for machines"
happened to write a novel reflecting what he observed. From the
reviewers, he wrote to the Times, he learned

... that I was a science-fiction writer...
I didn't know that. I supposed that I was writing a novel about life,
about things I could not avoid seeing and hearing in Schenectady... I
have been a sore-headed occupant of a file-drawer labeled
"science-fiction" ever since... The way a person gets into this
drawer, apparently, is to notice technology.

He goes on to observe of his fellow sci-fi writers that,

there are those who love life in this fulsome drawer, who are alarmed
by the thought that they might some day be evicted, might some day
be known for what they really are: plain, old, short-story writers and
novelists who mention the fruits of engineering and research.

So, to return to my original question: in addition to the stories of those
with whom Vonnegut found himself associated, what others might you
recommend? Again, I very much want to include those stories whose
imagined "fruits of [AI] engineering and research" would actually help us
in thinking about the differently intelligent' artificial interlocutors
we'd find intellectually challenging. Two among my most favourite
examples are Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, Klara and the Sun (2021), and
Steven Millhauser's short story, "The New Automaton Theatre" (1999).

By the way, I'd not want anyone to miss Vollegut's short story,
"Harrison Bergeron", though it's not in my sights for the question I am
asking here.

Many thanks.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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