Thesis ID: CBB649663345

Asiandroid: Techno-Orientalism and the AI Imaginary (2023)


My dissertation develops a cultural history of techno-Orientalist discourse through a close reading of the long history of androids, robots, and other embodied AI in science fiction, what I term, the AI imaginary. While scholars have examined how the dehumanization of Asians in techno-Orientalism relies on analogy to technology, I consider that the inverse is also true. Metaphors of technology as exemplified by AI literature rely on an analogy to Orientalist discourse for coherent worldbuilding. I argue that the AI being, far from being racially unmarked, functions allegorically as an Orientalized figure bearing recoded tropes, stereotypes, and fears associated with the East in the Western imaginary. My argument is that the coherence of much of AI literature, particularly works clustered around the themes of conflict and revenge, is reliant on racial allegory. What marks the AI as ontologically non-human often replicates cultural and racial logics that have long demarcated Asians and other racial minorities as insufficiently human under Western rubrics of liberal humanism. Each chapter of my dissertation considers different “tropes of exclusion”, a term I introduce as an analytic framework for the specific ways the ‘Other’, whether that be Asians in Orientalist discourse or AI in science fiction, are similarly excluded from the political and social body. My first chapter considers the science fiction pulp era of the early 1900’s where the first tropes of AI literature begin to cohere alongside the prevalence of ‘Yellow Peril’ narratives. My second chapter looks at Isaac Asimov’s lasting influence through the Three Laws of Robotics, and how the law functions as a method of population control. My third chapter turns to Philip K. Dick to examine how ideas of empathy and emotion are used to determine subjecthood. My final chapter turns to contemporary Asian authors, Ted Chiang and Kogonada, who subvert techno-Orientalist tropes by writing stories about AI that suggest a way out of the constant representation of AI as threat, and towards a non-anthropocentric approach to constructing the non-human Other.

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Authors & Contributors
LaGrandeur, Kevin
Boden, Margaret A.
Crosthwaite, Paul
Franchi, Stefano
Güzeldere, Güven
Kang, Minsoo
Science-Fiction Studies
Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology
IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Rutherford Journal: The New Zealand Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
Oxford University Press
The MIT Press
Drew University
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Technology and literature
Artificial intelligence
Automata; robotics; cyborgs
Science and literature
Asimov, Isaac
Carlyle, Thomas
Clarke, Arthur C.
Craik, Kenneth James William
Frayn, Michael
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
18th century
20th century, late
17th century
Great Britain
United States
London (England)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Stanford University

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