Program

Co-organized by: Lucy Burns, Margaret Rhee, and Neil Aitken

THU JUN 11 Literary Readings & Performances (Royce Hall 306, UCLA)
4:10 PM-
4:15 PM
Opening Remarks
Neil Aitken
4:15 PM-
4:20 PM
Official Welcome
Lucy Burns
4:20 PM-
6:30 PM
Readings & Performances
Margaret Rhee
Saba Razvi
Mark Marino
Chiwan Choi
KT Ishmael
Miyoko Conely
Minsoo Kang
Pablo Lopez
Jilly Dreadful & Isaac Schankler
Takeo Rivera
Kenji Liu
Neil Aitken
6:30 PM-
7:00 PM
Reception
FRI JUN 12 Critical Talks & Performances (Royce Hall 314, UCLA)
10:10 AM-
10:25 AM
Welcome: Why We Love Robots
Neil Aitken, USC
Margaret Rhee, UCLA
Lucy Burns, UCLA
10:25 AM-
11:25 AM
Panel One: Robots, Machines, the Making of Difference

Moderator: Jasmine Trice, UCLA

Takeo Rivera, UC Berkeley
The Masochistic Machine: Techno-Orientalism, Vincent Chin, and Contemporary Asian American Subjecthood

The 1982 murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit, Michigan was a profound and well-documented turning point in the history of Asian American political organizing. This paper rereads the murder of Vincent Chin and the performative eventualization of his death as a moment of techno-oriental interpellation that crucially wedded nascent “Asian Americanness” to the the machine. Through an interdisciplinary performance studies analysis of documentaries, the archives of the American Citizens for Justice, and trial reenactments, this essay traces the multitude of racialized assemblages that consolidated from the Chin affair in the 1980s, particularly the Asian as cyborg machine and the Asian as ideal subject of global capitalism, both emerging from the original violence that initiated Chin’s becoming-car. This essay furthermore argues that contemporary Asian American politics maintains an ambivalently masochistic relationship with Chin’s cyborg legacy, and gestures to the productively perverse possibilities of such a politics.

Amanda Davis, U Chicago
Desiring Machines and Constructions of Realness in A. I.: Artificial Intelligence

This presentation analyzes how a queer little child-robot constructs himself into a subject and what his unique construction can teach us about how real humans become individual subjects. In Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, little David escapes his patriarch’s plans for him and generates a speculative alternative to patriarch-controlled domesticity as the origin of American psychology. David rejects dependency on his patriarch by actively pursuing his desire for his adopted “mother” Monica and by remaining consistently indifferent to the father figures who ineffectually try to control him. Over the course of the film, David’s desire for Monica develops into a desire to be the object of her desire—a development that acknowledges Monica as a desiring subject independent of the child who desires her. David seeks to secure Monica’s love not by trying to control her but by trying to reconstruct himself into the “real boy” he thinks will be an object worthy of her desire. In contrast, David’s human “brother” Martin also desires Monica, but unlike David, Martin would presumably go on to grow into a real man by stifling his childish desire, rejecting Monica as an appropriate object, and finding a culturally sanctioned object to replace her. David’s seemingly slight revision on Freudian psychology means that his individuality is founded not on an oedipal rejection of his mother but on a sustained and dynamic desire for her. I argue that the film’s speculative revision means that instead of policing a structural divide between real humans and artificial ones, it instead depicts David’s artificial construction in order to expose through parallel the artificiality—and phallocentric origins—of realness itself. My presentation tracks the unfolding progression of David’s desires through his engagements with three categories of human artifice: childhood, domestic housing, and automation. At stake in my analysis of these categories is exposing the constructedness of realness but also of the very humans responsible for constructing it.

Anne McKnight, Shirayuri College
Modular Futures in Black Japanese Robots, 1924 to 1963

This presentation will look at a small, but coherent and significant, body of work on robots that appeared in mass culture venues (fiction, animation) in the mid twentieth century (1924-1963). All of these robots were black. They were linked with referents of African, Asian or American blackness–specific places in stories that sketched realistic fantasies of liberation at a time when either being an empire (in East and Pacific Asia), or living under one (the US) was on creators’ minds. These new beings, unlike folk-based characters that were another kind of new non-human character for mass audiences, tended to be characterized in relation to specific geographic areas. In turn, they tended to represent specific place-based ideas of difference. I use the querying style of speculative design to look at the cultural work that modular robots do: how they were put together, how their stories arced along the lines of manifestos, and how they turned from objects to subjects. I explore why and how black robots represented mass liberation, and ask what sorts of solidarities that Japanese creators sought with these beings, their parts and their stories, as they turn their characters from objects to subjects, in imagined (if unilateral) empathy with them.

11:25 AM-
12:25 AM
Panel Two: The Literary, and the Robot

Moderator: Rachel Lee, UCLA

Saba Razvi, University of Houston
The Machine and the Making of a Loveless Madness: excerpts from “Waking Galatea” & Commentary

Waking Galatea is ostensibly a sci-fi, cyberpunk, epic poem centering around an anti-hero and a mechanical heroine. The narrative of Giger, robotics engineer gone sociopathically awry after the ambiguous death of his wife, and Galatea, his project meant to commemorate her in artificially sentient humanoid form, centers not on the consequences of artificial intelligence but on the actual establishment of a framework for that intelligence. The poem, told through a multiplicity of voice, scene, and context, explores the line between the sublime and the grotesque as it traces our collective desire to create and sustain mechanical life. Employing a hypermediacy of form, it examines the similitude between the monstrous and the human, focusing not on difference, but on the likeness that is approximately but not exactly the reflection of the intended self impressed into the creation. Seeking to explore the ways in which our consciousness is programmed into a being, and therefore the ways in which gender, sexuality, and ambition are inscribed into our ways of being, the poem focuses solely on the act of Giger’s creation of Galatea and the landscapes of his internal and external worlds as they become manifest in her framework. Taking up issues presented by George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Villier, Philip K Dick, and Gibson in a form that rarely employes science fiction — poetry — the poem explores the ethical and artistic implications of a world infused with a technology whose use-value surpasses its understood dimensions and the responsibilities we have to the experiments we create. Its experimental use of form invites readers, too, to consider the balance between techne and poiesis in the writing of poetry itself. By bringing us into Mori’s theory of the Uncanny Valley at the precise point of becoming a grotesque other, the poem seeks the unconscious impressions that we leave within our artifacts and artworks in order to understand what they might mean about ourselves.

Dmitry Berenson, Worchester Polytechnic University
Attempts at Bridge-Building

I often find myself caught in one of two modes of thinking: the analytical process of science and engineering and the qualitative process of poetry. Being faculty in Computer Science and Robotics at WPI, my research and teaching emphasizes the first. My PhD and current work focuses on creating algorithms that allow robots to interact with their environments and with people. Studying, writing, and performing poetry for the last fifteen years emphasizes the second. Both ways of thinking make sense under their own rules. Both seem necessary. But what one considers sacred, the other often disregards. The poems I’ll present try to establish a dialogue between these two ways of understanding. I’ll also share some thoughts on similarities in the creative processes used to make new algorithms and new poems.

Neil Aitken, USC
Mechanical Minds and Clockwork Brains: The Machine-like Thinker in Nineteenth-Century Literature

This presentation examines how nineteenth-century discourse around Charles Babbage’s calculating machines and his work toward a general purpose computer informed the imagining of a new type of subject, a non-human consciousness that thought in a machine-like manner. What did it mean to say that a person thought like a machine? How would or should such a machine sentience be perceived and acknowledged by a general public? Why is Sherlock Holmes, a human whose mind and mannerisms are frequently acknowledged by himself and others as machine-like in their emotional distance and cognitive supremacy, ultimately more palatable than other figures who possess actual machine minds while also masquerading as human? Drawing on the writings of Charles Babbage, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, E.P. Mitchell, and others, I explore these questions, and argue that the machine thinker figures in these nineteenth-century texts function as sites of existential inquiry, the means by which anxieties about the self and the other are brought together in a single multi-identified body.

12:25 AM-
1:25 PM
Lunch Break
1:30 PM-
2:45 PM
Keynote Address

Minsoo Kang, University of Missouri
The Question of the Woman-Machine: Gender, Hysteria, and Thermodynamics in the Nineteenth Century

In recent scholarly works on automata, a major topic of discussion has been the man-machine, or the idea of considering a human being in mechanical terms. The notion has been deployed in the various fields of physiology, in the use of the machine analogy in the description of the body, psychology, in the elucidation of individual as well as mass behavior; and in philosophy, in the understanding of the mind in relation to the concept of machinery. The man-machine has, in fact, been a central idea with which Western culture has pondered the nature of humanity. But what of the woman-machine? When we speak of the man-machine, is the word ‘man’ used merely as a generic term for a human being? Or is there a gendered aspect to the concept that the continued use of the term ‘man’ both conceals and points to? In an effort to explore the gender implications of the human-machine idea, this study examines the notion of the specifically female machine. The rise of a neo-mechanistic physiology based on thermodynamics in the nineteenth century occurred at a time when the medical establishment was solidifying sexual difference in the male and the female bodies. This resulted in the elaboration of a woman’s body as a machine that operates in accordance with the needs of its reproductive system that also subjects it to its particular weaknesses and dangers. In the period’s descriptions on what distinguished the woman-machine from its male counterpart, the language of the medical condition of hysteria was deployed. And the notion that every woman was as at least potentially a hysterical woman-machine gave rise to fantasies of female automata endowed with irrational and sometimes even supernatural power.

2:45 PM-
3:45 PM
Panel Three: On Robot Dialogue and Performance

Moderator: Lucy Burns, UCLA

Miyoko Conley, UC Berkeley
Selections from INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS

Selections from the full-length play INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS. A play about robots. And humans. And their ever-evolving relationship. A timeline of the decline of the human and the rise of the robot told through a series of vignettes. Pieces presented are: ROBOT ARM (Thursday), and THE JOKE and THE DREAM (Friday).

Peggy Weil, USC
The Blurring Test: Difference Database

In 1998, MrMind, a chatbot, initiated a fifteen-year global conversation between humans and machines asking visitors to his site, “Can you convince me that you are human?” The transcripts from this reverse Turing Test form a vast human portrait, a group “selfie” of statements documenting an effort to distinguish ourselves from our machine creations.

MrMind asks “What is the difference between you and me?” We sense there is a difference but fumble attempting to articulate limits. “A firefly is more alive than a transistor,” but “a calculator is more alive than a deck of cards. “I am human because I can twist cherry stems with my tongue,” is stable only until the appearance of lingual cherry stem twisting apparatus. This talk draws on tens of thousands of statements of difference from MrMind’s transcripts gathered from 1998 – 2014, a time of significant transition in the relationship between humans and machines.

Mark Marino, USC
Terms of Service Bot & Living Will

With the advent of Siri, humans are becoming more comfortable with the idea and practice of conversing with computer programs. Though the programs are designed primarily to engage conversation, as a consequence of their simulation, they also perform gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, and race. In this discussion, I will examine the way chatbots perform these intersecting identity categories and will explore how the software, especially the code, determines these performances.

3:45 AM-
4:25 PM
Featured Performance

micha cárdenas, USC in conversation with Miriam Posner, UCLA
Our Cold Bodies: Shifting Poetics in Trans Science Fiction

Sometimes, my implants are cold, and it startles me. This lecture/performance begins with a personal experience of relating to Major Kusanagi, and builds on this with methods from transgender studies, media studies and the materialisms of Deleuze and Barad to consider the poetics of shifting. Contemporary science fiction is full of scenes of shifting from visible to invisible, from Janelle Monáe’s Metropolis, to Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 animated film Ghost in the Shell with Major Motoko Kusanagi’s cyborg body with skin capable of thermoptic camouflage. What I am advocating is a strategy similar to Chela Sandoval’s differential consciousness, a strategy of shifting between different oppositional modes that had been used by women of color feminism, but deals more with the specific materiality of a shift from visibility to invisibility, and focuses on the space between these two states. Perhaps a close consideration of shifting can aid in the project of creating a trans of color feminism.

4:25 PM-
4:40 PM
Closing Thoughts
Lucy Burns, UCLA
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