There’s a reason Siri, Alexa and AI are imagined as female: sexism

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Virtual assistants are increasingly popular and present in our everyday lives: literally with Alexa, Cortana, Holly, and Siri, and fictionally in films Samantha (Her), Joi (Blade Runner 2049) and Marvel’s AIs, FRIDAY (Avengers: Infinity War), and Karen (Spider-Man: Homecoming). These names demonstrate the assumption that virtual assistants, from SatNav to Siri, will be voiced by a woman. This reinforces gender stereotypes, expectations, and assumptions about the future of artificial intelligence. Continue reading “There’s a reason Siri, Alexa and AI are imagined as female: sexism”

Oscars 2018: why Andy Serkis has yet again been denied the recognition he deserves

Originally posted: January 2018Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 13.47.30.png

Tiffany Haddish (star of Girls’ Trip) and Andy Serkis (War of the Planet of the Apes) co-hosted the 2018 Oscar nominations broadcast in anticipation of the 90th Academy Awards in March. Haddish is the breakout star of one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, tipped for success this award’s season. Serkis, meanwhile, is a phenomenally successful actor, but one whose face is not always seen on screen – despite a lengthy list of acting credits. Continue reading “Oscars 2018: why Andy Serkis has yet again been denied the recognition he deserves”

Movies and Scientific Accuracy (Microbiology Today)

Originally published: November 2017maxresdefault.jpg

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a virus.

In Planet of the Apes (1968) Charlton Heston faced a future of intelligent apes in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust but in the 2011 re-launch of the franchise – Rise of the Planet of the Apes – the fall of humanity follows a global pandemic that kills 1 in 10 humans whilst heightening ape intelligence. Although Rise of the Planet of the Apes falters in accurately representing the processes of science it does have a striking visualisation of the spread of the ‘Simian Flu’ – an unintended side effect of an attempt to cure Alzheimer’s disease. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an example of recent film and TV that shows that lab-engineered outbreaks have replaced the nuclear holocaust on screens as the imagined and expected end of humanity. Science and scientists are central to causing and perhaps saving humanity from extinction. Continue reading “Movies and Scientific Accuracy (Microbiology Today)”

Why science fiction set in the near future is so terrifying

Originally posted: February 2017humans-557936a4530ac

From Humans to Westworld, from Her to Ex Machina, and from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D to Black Mirror – near future science fiction in recent years has given audiences some seriously unsettling and prophetic visions of the future. According to these alternative or imagined futures, we are facing a post-human reality where humans are either rebelled against or replaced by their own creations. These stories propose a future where our lives will be transformed by science and technology, redefining what it is to be human. Continue reading “Why science fiction set in the near future is so terrifying”

Westworld: Imagined Futures and Re/imagined Pasts

Originally posted: January 20171_lMW0qUD1hgQlnCABnQgkhw.jpeg

Westworld was my favourite series of 2016. It presented a rich science fiction future that managed to be fresh and exciting despite being a remake based upon a 1973 movie by the same title. It had and continues to have lots of opportunities for developing exciting and prescient narrative that can be explored in what I hope will be a long running series. I was mesmerised from the opening credits, which I wrote about hereWestworld played around with time and I will have to rewatch all ten episodes as I attempt to distinguish between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, and past, present and/or future. Continue reading “Westworld: Imagined Futures and Re/imagined Pasts”

Science & Future World Building in Westworld’s Credit Sequence

Originally posted: October 2016westworld-sun2.gif

Westworld finally got its UK premier last night. It seemed like an eternity between the US release and our chance to explore, and I successfully navigated the minefield of avoiding spoilers and opinions on the first episode that might interfere with my own initial response (and enjoyment). The first episode wasn’t perfect – I wanted more, but it was necessary to give over time and space for worldbuilding (both the Western theme-park and the futuristic workplace) and introducing the basic concept of the show. It’s based on the 1973 SF-Western movie Westworld written and directed by science fiction writer Michael Crichton (Jurassic ParkAndromeda StrainDisclosure), it was Crichton’s first foray in directing, and it famously stars Yul Brynner as a killer-robot called ‘The Gunslinger’. The film and now the HBO TV series is set in a near-future adult amusement park where the super-rich can pay ($40,000/day) for an immersive storyworld ‘holiday’ where they can do use the robots as they please to act out their wildest Wild West fantasies. Continue reading “Science & Future World Building in Westworld’s Credit Sequence”

(Don’t) Ask a Scientist!: The Good, the Bad, and the Accuracy

Originally posted: May 2016Frau_Im_Mond_940

At the end of March 2016 I went to my first science fiction convention: EasterCon. Also known as the British National Science Fiction Convention, now in its 67th year, the convention is given a name that reflects its location or theme each year and for the Manchester EasterCon we had Mancunicon. The convention, which is primarily literary, was drastically different from my convention expectations of cosplayers and comic books. It was a serious and engaging event where, as a SF researcher, it was great to speak to a huge range of writers, fans, and commentators. Audience questions were perceptive and revealing and I found the entire experience very rewarding. Continue reading “(Don’t) Ask a Scientist!: The Good, the Bad, and the Accuracy”

SF Suggestions (2016 edition)

Originally posted: May 2016Orphan-Black-Cosima-1434649070.gif

When I started as a postdoc on the Unsettling Scientific Stories project in 2016 I was asked to produce a ‘top ten’ list of SF texts that were favourites, inspiration, and the types of works that I hoped to look at as part of the project.

This is mine: Continue reading “SF Suggestions (2016 edition)”

You gotta make way for the Homo Superior: Mutation, Evolution, and Super Powers on Screen

Originally posted: February 2015

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Detail from the title sequence from X-Men: First Class

Recently I went to a fascinating research seminar on the history of the theory of mass extinction and the human fears of and impact on extinction given by historian of biology, Dr David Sepkoski (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (University of Manchester). It got me thinking about not only imagined extinction in fiction (I’ve researched/written about Planet of the Apes’ and its post-human/post-apocalyptic worlds), but also about how some recent science fiction shows, predominately in the Marvel (MCU) and DC storyworlds, have drawn upon human fears of extinction and being replaced (and thus super threatened) by another human race (or more specifically, a secondarily evolving hominin species). The fear isn’t of an invading species of aliens, or the rise of intelligent apes – but a threat that is much closer to home, a threat from within human DNA (what Kirby [2007] refers to as ‘the Devil in our DNA’). Continue reading “You gotta make way for the Homo Superior: Mutation, Evolution, and Super Powers on Screen”