Laughing at Robots : Ironic Portrayals of Artificial Intelligence Across Western Cultures



Year of publication 2017
Type Conference abstract
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description From its very conception and introduction to the society, artificial intelligence has been a subject of both persisting excitement and paranoia. As a result of this, it may seem that writers and directors have often portrayed it in two different ways – either as scary and potentially dangerous (e.g. P. K. Dick’s depictions of AI) or as rather amusing and mostly harmless (e.g. Marvin from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy). Perhaps the most interesting portrayals, however, have been those that have managed to combine humour with paranoia. In fact, there is sometimes a fine line between the two, and from Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. to Fink and Cranor’s Welcome to Night Vale, many have managed to walk it without ever fully answering the question whether AI should always be seen as dangerous or not. This paper will attempt to explore this seeming dichotomy by analysing several AI characters from different western countries and their relationships with humans as well as their impression on the audience. Furthermore, it will also help throw light on other related questions, such as: Could the purpose of the comedic aspect of these portrayals be to simply lessen the underlying fear? Can something that makes the audience laugh ever be perceived as scary again? And finally, how does this combined approach differ across the western world?
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