“Unquantifiable factors”: The Concept of Qualia in Two Novels about Artificial Intelligence by Richard Powers and David Gerrold

in Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
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The paper examines the literary treatment of qualia in two sf novels each thematising the creation of an artificial intelligence: Galatea 2.2 (1995) by Richard Powers and WhenHARLIEWas One (1972) by David Gerrold. The works exemplify two basic attitudes towards the qualia problem: Gerrold takes a typically postmodernist stance applying the maxim of the total superiority of language to reality, while Powers expresses disillusionment with and suspicion towards the philosophy of deconstruction. The paper argues that the two artificial “protagonists” of the respective novels can be described using concepts from the research done on the philosophy of consciousness. The ways in which both writers imagine the creation of an artificial intelligence are compared, with reference to terms borrowed from consciousness studies. Ultimately two divergent conclusions are explored, since the texts culminate in radically different resolutions drawn from similar premises. The outcome of Galatea 2.2 can arguably be called a humanistic ending, while WhenHARLIEWas One seems to celebrate the radical optimism of artificial intelligence research at the time of its conception.

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