Affective Response Beyond the Gothic: Romancing with the Machine from The Sandman to Uncanny
In recent American and British films emotions/affects are recognized as cru- cial for creating, recognizing, understanding, and communicating with artificial intelligence (AI) agents. AI is increasingly portrayed as capable of manipulating human affect and as itself subject to affect. The paper discusses romantic relation- ships between AI agents and humans in Blade Runner (1982), Ex Machina (2015) and Uncanny (2015), situating their portrayal in the context of post-humanism and affect studies. It also discusses the Turing test as a form of testimony. When the earlier gothic imagination focused on humans falling in love with mechanical dolls, as in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Erzählungen and G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion, the delusion that these artificial creatures were love-worthy was in the eye of the beholder. The contemporary post-humanist imagination posits the reverse possibility that AI agents may fall in love with people and with other AIs, or at least pretend to love in a convincing manner. By the same token, humans are stripped of their uniqueness and imagined as reducible to a machine-like status. The recent films extend this similarity of humans and machines by focusing on romantic scenarios involving both. The mechanistic grasp of affects is both implied and thematized in Ex Machi- na and Uncanny, where a sense of the peculiarly human persists in romantically inflected versions of the Turing test. The notion that machines can be convincing at the game of love shows that affects are increasingly understood as crucial to our understanding of AI. Conversely, this notion also suggests that distinguishing between the peculiarly human and that which machines are capable of imitating is more problematic than ever.
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