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Technology is often portrayed as an independent force, driving social and cultural change untethered from the people who created it. In today’s conversations about artificial intelligence, we hear this perspective in the warnings of how these technologies promise to change society (and the humans that happen to be part of it). The dynamics pointing in the other direction—how the particularities of being human shape the AI machinery—usually receive less attention. We know that human fallibility is deeply encoded into any technology, but how do social beliefs and cultural representations shape AI development? Whose desires, fears and aspirations influence how societies relate to or talk about AI technology? How does social inequality leave its imprint on the tools we choose to build?

In the seminar, we scrutinize representations of "intelligent machines", and discuss how memes, literature, gender stereotypes, and colonial histories shape AI and the role it plays in today's society. Conceived as a series of conversations, the seminar brings together experts from across the arts, humanities, and computational sciences to reflect on the social and cultural influences shaping the development of AI technologies.

In this session titled "AI, Science Fiction and Imagined Futures", we discuss how science fiction, (especially the dys- or utopian portrayal of technological futures) percolates in current discussions of AI.

Panelists include:

  • Hallvard Haug, Writer and researcher
  • Ada Hoffmann, Science Fiction writer and Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Queen's University, Canada
  • Chen Jing, Associate Professor of the School of Arts at Nanjing University
  • Anna McFarlane, Lecturer in Medical Humanities, University of Leeds
  • Gabby Bodard, Reader in Digital Classics, School of Advanced Study (Chair)

If you have any questions about the series, please email the facilitators Michael Donnay and Kaspar Beelen at

All welcome

This event is free to attend, but booking is required. It will be held online with details about how to join the virtual event being circulated via email to registered attendees 24 hours in advance.