Stop trying to live my life for me
I need to breathe
I'm not your robot
Stop telling me I'm part of the big machine
I'm breaking free
Can't you see
I can love, I can speak, without somebody else operating me
You gave me eyes so now I see
I'm not your robot
I'm just me.
—Miley Cyrus, “Robot” (2010)
“You’re a unique robot, Andrew. I feel a responsibility to help you become … whatever you’re able to be.”
—Bicentennial Man (1999, dir. Chris Columbus)
- Believe in the ArchAndroid.
- If you see your neighbor jamming harder than you, covet his or her jam.
- Be aware that jamming means: no tweeting without clapping, no sex without screaming and no freedom without dancing.
—Janelle Monáe, The 10 Droid Commandments, 1–3 (undated, ~2010)
During the last two years, robots like Pepper and Nao have been tested as companions and proxy-nurses in care homes for elderly people, the Chinese female robot Sophia was given Saudi Arabian citizenship (in some ways granting it more rights than women have in the country), and the first brothels for sexbots (sex dolls with a programmable personality and speech recognition/simulation) have been opened in North America and Europe. We can expect robots with gendered bodies and simulated personalities who engage in human-like interaction and communication to enter many aspects of our public and personal lives in the near future.
While robotics of this kind is still young, the literary history of artificial beings endowed with life and consciousness is as old as mankind, going back to various creation myths where man is made from clay, to Ovid’s Pygmalion whose beloved statue Galatea is given life by Aphrodite; via medieval Jewish golem stories, Frankenstein’s monster (1818), or the wooden puppet Pinocchio who wants to be a real boy (1883); to the clockwork women Olimpia in Hoffmann’s The Sandman (1816) and Hadaly in Villiers’s Tomorrow’s Eve (1886) who are the perfect objects of desire for disappointed men.
Over the entire twentieth century, science fiction media have featured artificial beings, and in the first two decades of the twenty-first century the representation of androids, cyborgs, and clones in literature, film, TV, video games, and music has been engaged intensely with both ontological questions of selfhood and consciousness, and ethical questions of the autonomy and rights of artificial beings.
In this seminar, we will look at cultural productions and representations of these artificial beings. We will investigate current phenomena, like e.g. sexbots, and the cultural reaction to these phenomena as well as fictional media that engages with the topic. The theoretical focus will be on bodies, i.e. androids as artificial physical interlocutors, created and shaped to carry specific meanings, programmed to perform specific actions, built to be used, touched, talked to in specific ways. Theoretical frameworks of embodiment (Foucault and others) and performance (Butler and others) are important here, as is, obviously, feminist and queer theory in general.
For this seminar, you are required to read the following novel and short stories and to watch the following film and TV series episode.
Annalee Newitz, Autonomous (novel, 2017)
Ovid, “Pygmalion and the Statue” (short excerpt)
Isaac Asimov, “Galatea” (short story, 1987)
Brian Aldiss, “Super-toys Last All Summer Long” (short story, 1969)
Ex Machina (film, 2014)
Black Mirror, “Be Right Back” (Netflix, series 2, episode 1, 2013)
Selected further reading
This is a selection of relevant media which you can browse for a deeper look into the topic (e.g. study for the Studienleistung or a module paper)
Literature: Hoffmann, The Sandman (1816); Shelley, Frankenstein (1818); Villiers, Tomorrow’s Eve (1886); Wells, The Island of Dr Moreau (1896); Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968); Aldiss, “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” (1969, film adaptation A.I., 2001); Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969); McCaffrey, The Ship Who Sang (1969); Asimov, The Bicentennial Man (1976, film adaptation 1999); McEwan, “Dead As They Come” (1978); Lee, The Silver Metal Lover (1981); Asimov, “Galatea” (1987); Cherryh, Cyteen (1988, sequel Regenesis, 2009); Piercy, He, She and It/Body of Glass (1991); Morgan, Altered Carbon (2002, TV adaptation 2018); Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005, film adaptation 2010); Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (2009); Chiang, The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010).
Film: Metropolis (1927); THX 1138 (1971); Westworld (1973); The Stepford Wives (1975, remake 2004); Blade Runner (1982, sequel Blade Runner 2049, 2017); The Terminator (1984, with a gazillion sequels); Ghost in the Shell (1995, remake 2017); Bicentennial Man (1999); A.I. (2001); The Island (2005); Air Doll (2009); Never Let Me Go (2010); Her (2013); Ex Machina (2014); Zoe (2018); ; Alita: Battle Angel (2019).
TV: Battlestar Galactica (2004); Äkta människor (Real Humans) (2012, adapted as Humans 2015); Orphan Black (2013); Black Mirror, “Be Right Back” (S2E1, 2013); Westworld (2016); Altered Carbon (2018); Follow This, “Sexbots” (E3, 2018); Love, Death + Robots (2019).
Video Games: Nier: Automata (2017); Detroit: Become Human (2018).
Music: Björk, “All Is Full of Love” (1999); Goldfrapp, “Utopia” (2000); Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer (2018) and the whole Afrofuturist cycle about the female android Cindy Mayweather who falls in love with a human.