Current & Forthcoming
Projects in various stages of completion
Speculative title: 'Cyborg Conception: technologized reproduction and posthuman families in literary and cultural imagination'
Current: Cyborg Conception (ISSF funded, October 2020-October2021)
This project will investigate how issues surrounding assisted reproduction are narrativized in contemporary culture and how the technologizing of reproduction has shaped posthuman discourse since the first successful human IVF pregnancy in 1978. To respond to my research questions, I will investigate three genres. The first concerns how fertility is articulated to children and young people; for example, the educational importance for public understandings of fertility health and the social and emotional wellbeing of children conceived through technological intervention. The second genre is life writing; an important strand is graphic novels which finds a natural companion in infographics used by medical professionals and businesses to convey complex fertility issues/options to patients. The third genre is science fiction after 1978 to investigate how assisted reproduction in literature has helped demystify fertility and explore ethical anxieties. The capacity of science fiction to imagine future medical technology will push the project to consider the future of assisted conception.
To focus the primary texts, I will concentrate on three thematic strands: how each genre addresses newly visible family constructions; how technologizing conception readdresses the relationship between foetus and mother; and how cyberverse navigates multi-genre narratives of assisted reproduction and helps new family formations gain visibility.
Outputs include two peer reviewed journal articles, one in The BMJ Journal of Medical Humanities, and another in Modern Fiction Studies to strengthen my publication record in advance of an external grant. These outputs will complement the Wellcome’s mission of extending medical humanities knowledge.
Timeline: Complete October 2021
Speculative title: 'The Legal Ramifications of the AGI 'Holy Grail'
In progress (partially funded Beyond AGI)
Although AGI is considered to be the Holy Grail of the AI field, I reposition the question to speak after the Holy Grail has been won. This forthcoming paper, a rework of an award winning conference paper, explores the legal consequences of the AGI Holy Grail. The wealth of scholarly and science fiction examples reveal a profound ambition to create an evolved intelligence and, most vitally, a will to place this AGI within the human sphere as deserving of liberty, claim, power and immunity. I also wonder if legal rights will one day be the Holy Grail for AGIs.
Artificial General Intelligence refers to the successful construction of intelligent machines, in which the intelligence is argued to be equal to, or surpassing, human intellect. AGI is, for many, the coveted goal of the artificial intelligence field. However, once this goal is achieved a question of where the AGI fits into the human arena may be debated. One way advanced AGI may impact the human world is in regards to legal rights. Because AGI will demonstrate ‘general intelligence’ equivalent (if not superior) to general intelligence displayed in the standard human, then a question of legal positioning may occur. My focus is not on exploring whether AGI should enter the courts in the quest for legal rights, but what would happen if this became a reality. Thinkers such as Justin Leiber and David Gunkle explore whether technology can and should have rights and explore the ‘machine question’ more broadly by looking at issues of cognition, moral agency, personhood and so on. However, my focus instead is to examine how the pursuit of rights would have impact on social perspectives and on current law.
In order for me to carve out an area of focus – that of the impact of AGI legal rights –I shall examine how science fiction foresees this issue transpiring.
Stage: first draft complete (converted and expanded from conference paper) 2020
Timeline: to be submitted 2020
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
PhD: A reworking of three chapters from my PhD thesis '(How) is this a man? The fear of human disappearance and dehumanisation through the development of technology as reflected in selected western science fiction post 1945'.
Conference paper (peer-reviewed, award winning, funded): 'The Pursuit of Legal Rights for AGI in the Speculative Future', Beyond AI 2013, University of West Bohemia, November 2013.
Conference paper: 'The Technologically Rapine', Current Research in Speculative Fiction, The University of Liverpool, June 2013.
Conference paper: 'Technophobia and Technoparanoia: Looms, Luddites, and Laptops', Fear and Loathing, University of Kent, May 2014.
Speculative title: 'The Ruin of Man: Anxiety Surrounding Nuclear War in American Literature and Popular Culture 1945-60'
American psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton describes the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as traumatic, rupturing events for American consciousness in the twentieth century. One way this trauma can be investigated is through a study involving mainstream literature published at the time. In this paper, I will examine the effect of the nuclear arms race on American culture and society during the Cold War years as expressed through the medium of popular fiction.
This paper suggests that sf texts of the time were not penned for a hysterical society avidly reading sf to titillate or verify their fears, these stories were often crafted (like Nan Randall’s ‘Charlottesville’) to educate – even if through fantastic scenarios. In this paper, I will analyse how four representative texts communicate varied anxieties over a potential nuclear war. These sample texts represent a speculative step forward, moving beyond (although commenting implicitly on) Hiroshima and Nagasaki to speak of the potential Cold War turned hot. In the process, I examine how these texts respond to and challenge a society soothed by government propaganda; I explore what messages were enshrined within the texts and discuss what warnings were issued. The notion of human ‘ruin’ in these texts (as reflected by the prospective title) articulate biological degradation from blast and fallout, but also refer to damage to society, infrastructure, and morality.
Texts considered: Judith Merril’s ‘That Only A Mother’ (1948), Andre Norton’s Star Man’s Son (1952), Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon (1959), and Mordecai Roshwald’s Level 7 (1959).
Stage: final draft complete
Timeline: submission to journals late 2021
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
CONFERENCE PAPER: 'Technology, psychological doubling, and genocide. how remote technology facilitates "evil" acts as explored through science fiction after World War II', Evil and Human Wickedness 14th Global Conference, Interdisciplinary.net, April 2013.
SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES
Speculative title: Ascending or Descending? The Question of Disability, Body Dissociation, and Mind Uploading in Contemporary Science Fiction Television.
This paper uses science fiction to investigate the ‘mind uploading’ into biological and/or non-biological machines. Building on the work of Singularity theorists including Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, as well as investigating movements such as the LifeNaut project, this paper examines ideas of posthumanity that feature separating consciousness from the biological body. This paper unearths some of the primary hopes and fears highlighted in science fiction over ‘ascension’ and ‘uploading’.
Vinge describes fiction which features technological acceleration as fixed around the term ‘dilemma’. Indeed, through offering a close reading of Dr Amanda Perry from Stargate Universe (2009-11) I will explore how the character enshrines debate surrounding ‘mind-uploading’. As a ‘genius’ scientist and quadriplegic, Perry is described as “brilliant” but with “certain limitations”. Perry represents many Singularity concepts: her consciousness is separated from her disabled body and initially downloaded into host bodies, she later exists as a disembodied consciousness, and finally she is uploaded into the ship’s computer as a functioning program. Perry’s disembodied condition is described as both “freeing” and “constraining”. Despite longing to be free from her biological shackles, Perry eventually misses human contact. In her quest to experience physicality, she endangers the ship and crew which results in the quarantine of her program.
This paper uses Perry as a platform from which to discuss the positives and negatives of mind uploading. For thinkers, such as Kurzweil, the ability to engage in higher intellectual pursuits without the body is a step towards higher evolution. However, through examining Perry’s ‘ascension’, I will highlight problematic areas of disembodiment and ‘uploading’ including: gender, sexuality, disability, the location of ‘self’, identity, space and the main binary of body/mind.
Stage: first draft complete (converted and expanded from conference paper)
Timeline: submission to journals early 2021
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
CONFERENCE PAPER: Ascending or Descending? Ideas of the Singularity in Stargate Universe', Current Research in Speculative Fiction, University of Liverpool, June 2014.
URBAN EXPLORATION AND APOCALYPSE STUDIES
Speculative title: Exploring Apocalypse: Forbidden Spaces and Hidden Dimensions
In Star Man's Son (1952) Andre Norton describes a future world post nuclear apocalypse. This paper has two interconnected parts. In the first part of the paper I discuss how the protagonist, Fors, embarks of an exploration of the ruined former civilisation and presents the reader with the strangeness of gazing upon the ruination of the reader's own civilization and culture. As I explain, for the Cold War reader, Norton's ruins anticipate the destruction of their own world and thus the ruins simultaneously represent disappearance and remembrance whilst acting as a warning regarding the nuclear threat. Here the philosophy of the ruin will be discussed in detail.
In the second part of the paper, the dual danger and delight of Urban Exploring is investigated. Urban Exploring is an act of trespass onto derelict and abandoned properties in an effort to document and explore the forbidden space. Fors, in Star Man's Son, explores the derelict cities post apocalypse and looks for artefacts. Similarly, the urban explorer ventures into former hospitals such as 'Denbigh County Asylum' in North Wales to photograph decomposing medical records. Arguably, part of the enjoyment of post-apocalyptic texts is the related potential to explore the forbidden unchecked. The want to venture forth into decay is perhaps a psychological desire to occupy history and defy the rules which bar access to a part of the human realm.
Regardless of the pleasure one might experience in ruination there is always a sense of inescapable loss associated with destruction. This paper explores both the sublime terror and awe experienced in penetrating these spaces of ruination, using Star Man’s Son as an example of Cold War pre-emptive urban exploration.
Timeline: write up mid 2021
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
CONFERENCE PAPER: 'Memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: projected fictional landscapes based on the memory of nuclear holocaust', Memories of Conflict, Conflict of Memories International Conference, University College of London
CONFERENCE PAPER: '(Future Apocalypse Now', Memories of the Future, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL, May 2014
TALK: Talk for Institute of Contemporary Arts, Exploration: Ruined Things, May 29, 2016. Images here.