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DIS Research Seminars



Research Talk by Rebecca Roach

By Antonios Bikakis, on 22 February 2024

Conversation Machines, Missing Secretaries, Bad Readers

The talk was delivered on 21 February 2024 by Dr. Rebecca Roach, Associate Professor of Contemporary Literature and Principle Investigator (Digital) of The Stuart Hall Archive Project at the University of Birmingham., as part of the DIS research seminars series.

‘Giant electronic brains’: it was an early model for understanding computers, one that has been enormously generative, spurring advances in cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence across the decades. In this talk I want to tell a different story. There is another metaphor about computers that is just as prevalent in our culture, but much less commented upon: computers as talking machines. Conceived as interactive, as ‘conversational’, computing technologies start to look very different and the relations that they posit across disciplines (the inherent value of literary studies in particular) very different too. Taking as my case study the ‘ur-bot’ ELIZA (1965), I will pull out some of the methodological and conceptual implications of conceiving of computers as conversational. Call it a back-history of ChatGPT if you will.

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