851-0322-00L  Artificial Life, Artificial Intelligence and the Question of Responsibility

SemesterSpring Semester 2024
LecturersS. S. Leuenberger
Periodicitynon-recurring course
Language of instructionGerman


851-0322-00 VKünstliche Menschen, künstliche Intelligenz und die Frage der Verantwortung2 hrs
Thu12:15-14:00HG G 26.5 »
S. S. Leuenberger

Catalogue data

AbstractThe course provides an overview of the scientific, religious, technical and philosophical debates on the human quest for the creation of artificial life and artificial intelligence. In exemplary readings with subsequent discussion, the course explores the question of which aspects of the topic literary texts since antiquity, visual art and film negotiate.
ObjectiveStudents become familiar with the debates that have taken place since antiquity about man's desire to create artificial living beings and artificial intelligence. Analyzing literary and factual texts as well as film sequences, they work out which narratives are shaped by this and which fundamental ethical and socio-political questions are raised in them.
ContentThe desire to create artificial life and artificial intelligence has preoccupied people since ancient times. They associate it with bold dreams, great hopes and terrible fears. The subject is dealt with in natural philosophy and alchemy, in scientific, religious and philosophical discussions during the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and in the context of the debate about the technical achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Most often, the human creator dream is reflected in narratives: in mythical and literary texts, in theater, in visual art, and in film. Here, automata, homunculi, male and female golem figures, robots, androids, and artificial intelligence-equipped electronic computers appear as figures of a fictional world, often long before they emerge in the real world. The question therefore arises: What range of topics is negotiated in the literary texts and how does this happen? What narrative patterns can be discerned? And are philosophical essay writing and the media debates of our present also shaped by these narratives?
The starting point of the considerations for the creation of artificial beings is always the fact that man feels himself to be deficient: His knowledge is limited, and therefore he seeks knowledge gain and self-affirmation through experimentation. Because of his weak constitution, he depends on protection and support from more powerful helpers. And he is greedy and inclined to comfort, which is why he likes to outsource his work: to slaves and serfs, to economically dependent people whom he exploits, and increasingly also to dumb machines.
The abilities and achievements of the artificial creatures are far greater than those of the beings that man begets in a natural way. Through his creatorship he can now understand himself as raised above his own limitations, as similar to God. However, the biblical story of paradise already describes the desire to be like God as presumptuous, as hubris. Already the devil was banished from God's circle because of it. And this is exactly what happened to man: He was expelled from paradise and knows about the danger of presumptuous plans.
It is precisely these dangers that are now placed at the center of the debate in numerous texts:
What happens when the human creator fails and his work is of inconceivable ugliness? What happens when the artificially created creatures no longer prove to be subservient and compliant? When they develop a will of their own, when they show reason and the ability to think - and become rebellious? In the novel "Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus", written by the then 19-year-old Mary Shelley in 1816, it is no coincidence that the man-made creature reads Constantin Volney's work "Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les révolutions des empires", published in Geneva in 1791. Parallels between the revolt of the man-made being against its creator, who rejects responsibility for his creature and denies it any happiness, and the revolutionary uprising of the less privileged against their oppressors are drawn here in a clearly recognizable way. As is often the case in these stories, the creature is also given a voice here, which makes it possible to present the situation from different perspectives.
Subject-specific CompetenciesConcepts and Theoriesfostered
Method-specific CompetenciesAnalytical Competenciesfostered
Media and Digital Technologiesfostered
Social CompetenciesCommunicationfostered
Cooperation and Teamworkfostered
Leadership and Responsibilityfostered
Sensitivity to Diversityfostered
Personal CompetenciesCreative Thinkingfostered
Critical Thinkingfostered
Integrity and Work Ethicsfostered
Self-awareness and Self-reflection fostered
Self-direction and Self-management fostered

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits3 credits
ExaminersS. S. Leuenberger
Typegraded semester performance
Language of examinationGerman
RepetitionRepetition possible without re-enrolling for the course unit.

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Offered in

Doctorate Humanities, Social and Political SciencesSubject SpecialisationWInformation
History and Philosophy of Knowledge MasterLectures and ExercisesWInformation
Science in PerspectiveHistoryWInformation