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Artificial Intelligence—Failures, Fiascos, and Unforeseen Consequences in Literature

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Organizer: Elizabeth Callaway

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In the past few years, we have witnessed both a stunning acceleration of artificial intelligence innovation and a suite of terrifying AI blunders. From racist predictive sentencing software to sexist automated resume processing, and from recommendation algorithms that radicalize us to feeds that distract us, it is clear that AI has had more than its fair share of unintended consequences. This panel is interested in how the literary imagination can inform our understanding of what has gone so wrong with AI. Rather than get side-tracked by the red herring of sentience, which is often treated as the precondition for ethical questions about AI, we will examine what ethical questions literature exposes about AI as it is right now—prone to hallucinations, unpredictable in how it achieves set goals, incredibly biased, and already deployed to manipulate human behavior by keeping users on platform.

Imaginations of robots, automata, super-human intelligences, self-aware spaceships, and automated decision-making processes take seriously the unexpected consequences of AI deployment and the very human harm that comes from getting it wrong. If many high-profile AI debacles were failures of imagination, then we contend that literature can help us expand the imagination space of AI. By focusing on representations of breakdowns, failures, and fiascoes in AI, we hope to demonstrate how literature is an important tool for thinking through the development and regulation of AI.

This panel considers AI and literature very broadly. Because math, modeling, and statistics have long made the same kind of mistakes that we’re seeing AI implement at scale, proposals for papers about texts that don’t directly deal with AI but are interested in the ways that math is applied to resource allocation or decision making are welcome. Also, proposals from all time periods are encouraged. “Literature” includes not only novels, short fiction, poetry, and plays, but theory, videogames, electronic literature, films, T.V., digital art, philosophy, and more.

Potential themes include but are not limited to:

Automata in myth
The creation of intelligent beings like Galeta and Frankenstein’s monster
Artistic engagement with social media and its recommendation algorithms
Representations of computer models/modeling
Mathematical or statistical assessment including dealing with uncertainty
Characters with superhuman intelligence whether they be human or nonhuman
Narratives featuring algorithmic bias
Stories of radicalization and extremism
Privacy and surveillance in literature and film
Environmental costs of technology
Exploitative labor practices in big tech
AI use in gaming (both as a theme and in automatically generated elements of games)
How representations of AI engage gender and race
Other non-human intelligences: alien, animal, plant
Philosophical or theoretical explorations of AI

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