Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

Artificial Intelligence: A Cultural History

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Professor Emrah Efe Khayyat, SAS - Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures
MW 4:30-5:50P
Honors College Rm E128
College Ave Campus


Will Count Towards SAS-AMESALL Major and Minor

Whether conceived as the ultimate threat to human life or the next big thing, represented as utopia or dystopia, artificial intelligence is a reality of our lives. Everyone familiar with code, but also everyone who has access to search engines knows and interacts with artificial intelligence on a daily basis. Whether we perceive it as a threat or a dream-come-true or simply ignore it, we also all know and recognize it, in ads populating our computer screens and automated responses to our emails, via GPS and in self-driving cars. This is to say that we have a concept of its artificiality, and a concept of its intelligence as intelligence. These concepts of “artificiality” and “intelligence” are not mere abstractions, but have a concrete history. In modern times, this history extends from Descartes’ robotic animals to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Kempelen’s “Turk” toured the entire Western world in the 19th century to inspire Edgar Allan Poe to invent detective fiction, and later enabled Walter Benjamin to theorize “history” itself. This concrete intellectual history is very much present in our day and age in the way we know and recognize artificial intelligence. Moreover, while the question of artificial intelligence imposes itself with unprecedented urgency on our imagination today, the question of artificiality and/or authenticity of human intelligence has always been a central issue of the humanities, in literary criticism as in pedagogy, in cultural history and psychoanalysis as in philosophy. This course will survey the representations of artificial intelligence in contemporary fiction, poetry, criticism, and film, interpreting them against the background of this intellectual history, offering multiple humanistic perspectives.  A critical analysis of this intellectual history and its figures (the non-human, the machine, and the animal; “the Turk,” the non-Western or the Oriental) will also offer alternative ways of thinking on human agency and intelligence.

EFE KHAYYAT is assistant professor at Rutgers University, Program in Comparative Literature and the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures. He received his PhD from Columbia University, where he studied at the Department of English and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Before Rutgers he taught in Frankfurt and Istanbul, Paris and New York, mostly philosophy of literature and religion. Among his awards are various fellowships and visiting professorships at Gutenberg in Mainz, Science Po and Paris 8 in Paris, Cambridge University, and Jamia Millia Islamia of Delhi; a UNESCO award, the Marjorie Hope Nicolson doctoral fellowship and an ICLS fellowship at Columbia. He's a member of the founding board of Harvard University's Institute for World Literature. He works mostly with his native languages Turkish (Ottoman and modern) and Ladino (Judeo-Espagnol); also closely with Italian, French and German.