Death and the m(AI)den

by nike, May 15, 2015

The following is the abstract for a paper I’m hoping to deliver at the upcoming inaugural conference of the Australasian Death Studies Network: Death, Dying, and the Undead: Contemporary Approaches and Practice. The conference (which I’ll be attending either way!) will be held at UCQ’s Noosa Campus on October 25 this year.

Paper Title: Death and the m(AI)den

This paper explores the complex and troubling relationship between death and gender in a range of contemporary films and texts about artificial intelligence, focusing most explicitly on Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2015). In particular, this paper explores the ways Garland’s film frames and addresses questions about how to distinguish between the living and the not-living/dead, between the human and the machine endowed with consciousness. The paper draws on the iconic work of Frank Jackson, whose ‘Mary’s Room’ thought experiment about strong artificial intelligence is referenced in Garland’s film, and on Alan Turing’s test for strong artificial intelligence (the imitation game), in exploring the ways that gendered and sexualised AI throw into focus a particular set of ideas and anxieties about the relationship between death and desire.

The paper also explores the implications of Ex Machina’s references to Wittgenstein’s blue book, especially in terms of Wittgenstein’s early exploration, in that text, of language games: of language as a game.

In playing some games of its own, the paper moves from the blue book (and the character Nathan’s beard) to Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard, and to the ways in which the film’s iconography echoes and complicates the old French tale’s images of gender, sex, desire, and death.


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