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Living In A Science Fiction World

ENGL 002.401
crosslisted as: COML 002
instructor(s):
TR 12-1:30

Have you asked Siri a question today? Used a touchscreen? Navigated via GPS? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you arguably live in a science fiction world. As technology advances, the idea that our society is becoming more and more like something out of sci-fi is making headlines with increasing frequency; many, if not most, of today’s technologies and scientific discoveries were first theorized and articulated in works of science fiction. This course will address the ethical, philosophical, and practical questions raised by these new technologies through the lens of science fiction. For example, we’ll ask practical questions such as whether a sentient AI might be a danger to humanity; at the same time, we’ll deal with the more abstract problem of how to define sentience and the legal issues that may arise with the advent of a sentient, non-human being. The course will be divided into several units, including AI/robots, utopias/dystopias, space exploration and alien encounters, and transhumanism. In each case, we’ll look to science fiction to provide avenues of thought and potential answers to these increasingly relevant questions. We’ll address sentience and AI through Frankenstein and the Terminator franchise, explore utopian/dystopian narratives including Huxley, Orwell, Plato, and Francis Bacon, and theorize issues of space exploration and alien encounters via texts such as Star Trek and War of the Worlds. We’ll also pair these science fiction works with non-fiction articles about recent advancements in technology to see the symbiotic relationship between science fact and science fiction. This course is a CWiC critical speaking seminar. Assignments will include presentations of relevant ethical and practical issues, written comparisons of texts and their takes on science and technology, and debates on these issues.