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Asiandroid: Techno-Orientalism and the AI Imaginary

  • Fernandez, Leslie J
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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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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