Artificial Identity: Representations of Robots and Cyborgs in Contemporary Anglo-American Science Fiction Films

Gibson, Em Castaspella (2012) Artificial Identity: Representations of Robots and Cyborgs in Contemporary Anglo-American Science Fiction Films. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The ‘human condition’ has traditionally been an area of study addressed primarily by philosophers concerned with the mind/body problem, rather than studied as a neuroscientific conundrum. However, contemporary developments in science and technology that afford us a greater knowledge of the human brain have resulted in an increased scientific focus on consciousness, emotion and personhood. This thesis argues that such explorations into consciousness and emotion as prerequisites of ‘artificial identity’ have entered the domain of contemporary cinema through the representations of robots and cyborgs.

Despite the capacity for transhumanist practice and the creation of artificially intelligent automata that these developments have made possible, blurring the line between organic human and mechanical robots, it remains common for no distinctions to be made between the terms ‘human’ and ‘person’, which are used interchangeably to describe a member of the human race. Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, though, has proposed a series of criteria for personhood that challenge the assumption that only humans can be considered persons.

The application of his criteria to a series of key texts that highlight the relationships between humans and representations of automata - I, Robot (2004, Dir. Alex Proyas), Terminator Salvation (2009, Dir. McG) and Bicentennial Man (1999, Dir. Chris Columbus) – is central to this thesis. It explores the extent to which the representations of robots and cyborgs can be considered persons within utopian and dystopian narratives that have, at their core, a view of artificial identity as desirable or as nightmare.

In conjunction with Dennett, the theories of neurologist and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio are applied, which explore both the biological means by which emotional (rather than solely physical) feelings are generated in humans, and the capacity of humans to simulate emotion. As Damasio argues that many of the central operations of the human central nervous and visceral systems are reducible to fundamental physics, the suggestion is that robots, too, could also ‘experience’ consciousness and emotion, being as they are very simplistic versions of humans. As such, the application of these theories suggests that the representations of robots and cyborgs in the key texts could be considered persons.

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