Spring 2024 Teaching: New Course on AI, Science Fiction w/ a hands-on element

English 386: Spring 2024

Black Mirrors: Science Fiction, AI, and Ethics

Instructor: Professor Amardeep Singh (“Deep”)

Mondays and Wednesdays, 12:10-1:25 (Drown 019)

This course will survey 20th- and 21st-century science fiction and film with an emphasis on representations of Artificial Intelligence. Though many think of this as a topic especially relevant to the present moment, in fact, writers and filmmakers have been considering AI in various ways since the late 1800s. For the present course, we will focus on contemporary science fiction representations of AI by writers like Martha Wells, Kazuo Ishiguro, Sean Michaels, and Jeanette Winterson. We'll also look closely at how AIs have been represented in contemporary media, in shows like Black Mirror and films like Her and Ex Machina. What are the ethical issues surrounding the creation and use of AIs? What tools do scientists, philosophers, and social theorists offer us to help make sense of the rapidly changing landscape regarding AI? What are some likely benefits of new AIs based on Large Language Models, and what might be some of the dangers? 

Required books

Death of an Author (Kindle ebook novella. Not available in paperback.)

Martha Wells, Murderbot Chronicles 1: All Systems Red

Martha Wells, Murderbot Chronicles 2: Artificial Condition 

Sean Michaels, Do You Remember Being Born? (2023) 

Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (2021)

Jeanette Winterson, Frankissstein (2019) 

Short stories, poetry, and select non-fiction reading

I Am Code: An Artificial Intelligence Speaks. Poems by code-davinci-002

Ted Chiang, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects”

Joy Buolamwini, “Unamasking AI” (excerpts)

Meredith Broussard, “Artificial Unintelligence: How Machines Misunderstand the


Emily Bender, “On the Danger of Stochastic Parrots” (2021)

Lee et al. “Do Language Models Plagiarize?” (2022)

Films and Media

Black Mirror (selected episodes dealing with AI)

Her (2013)

Ex Machina (2019)

M3GAN (2022) 

Goals and Outcomes: 

  • Students will read and analyze a body of contemporary fiction that engages with themes of AI and ethics directly. Students will also watch a certain number of films and television show episodes on this theme. These texts and films help us imagine how we might use AI in our everyday lives, how our lives might be changed by it, and what some of the dangers are. 

  • Students will gain familiarity with contemporary conversations about artificial intelligence, including especially generative AI. A particular area of interest is the ethics entailed in the construction of large language models (which frequently use large volumes of copyrighted materials), and the possible dangers entailed in the misuse of AI, especially for women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color. 

  • Students will consider how people in the humanities, including scholars of literature as well as creative writers, might use generative AI productively and affirmatively, and in ways that assist the labor of thinking and writing – not replace it. 

  • Students will gain hands-on experience using various new generative AI models based on accounts given by successful published writers who have used generative AI in their writing process. An additional possible outcome: we will attempt to create fine-tuned versions of open-source chatbots that are trained on limited corpora that we create. (We may get help from folks outside of the English department to do this last one.)