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Reading, Writing, Robots: AI and Literature

October 10, 2021 @ 6:30 pm


Litquake 2021 in conjunction with City Lights, Gray Area, The Grid, and the Goethe-Institut San Francisco present

Reading, Writing, Robots: AI and Literature

Moderated by Vanessa Chang and Bettina Wodianka.

with Catherine Flynn, Chen Quifan, and Robin Sloan

When GPT-3, OpenAI’s language generator, launched last year, people across the Internet fed it reams of literary data to create poems, plays, scripts and stories. Computational tools allow distant reading at a scale far beyond the scope of human comprehension. As texts become data and algorithms become co-authors, some futurists speculate that humans will relinquish creative fields to machines. In the work of authorship and analysis, artificial intelligence promises to remake the landscape of literature as we have long known it. Yet, literary history is replete with work composed by, with and for machines, from Pāṇini’s pioneering work in generative grammar to the avant-garde poetry of Dada and OuLiPo. Join Catherine Flynn, Chen Quifan, and Robin Sloan for a spirited discussion of AI’s influence on how we read and how we write. Moderated by Vanessa Chang and Bettina Wodianka.

Robin Sloan’s first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, was a New York Times bestseller, translated into more than 20 languages. His latest novel, Sourdough, was published in 2017. With his partner Kathryn Tomajan, Robin produces California extra virgin olive oil under the label “Fat Gold.” He lives in Oakland and works out of the Murray Street Media Lab, down by the railroad tracks.

Catherine Flynn is Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley, where she works on Irish modernist literature and culture in a European avant-garde context and on critical theory. She is the author of James Joyce and the Matter of Paris (Cambridge University Press, 2019). She is editor of the forthcoming Cambridge CentenaryUlysses: The 1922 Text with Essays and Notes (Cambridge, 2022), a facsimile edition of the 1922 Shakespeare and Company Ulysses equipped with introductory essays, maps, photographs, and footnotes, and she hosts a related podcast, U22 The Centenary Ulysses Podcast. She is also Director of Irish Studies at UC Berkeley where she hosts events featuring academics, artists, writers, politicians, diplomats, and entrepreneurs.

A fiction writer, screenwriter, and columnist—Chen Qiufan (aka Stanley Chan) has published fiction in venues such as People’s Literature, Youth Literature, Science Fiction World, Esquire, and Chutzpah! His futurism writing may be found at places like Slate and XPRIZE. He has garnered numerous literary awards, including Taiwan’s Dragon Fantasy Award and China’s Galaxy and Xingyun(Nebula) Awards. In English translation, he has been featured in markets such as Clarkesworld, Pathlight, Lightspeed, Interzone, and F&SF. “The Fish of Lijiang” won a Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award in 2012, and “The Year of the Rat” was selected by The Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One. More of his fiction may be found in Invisible Planets. He previously worked for Google, Baidu, and a VR/Mocap leading Startup Noitom Technology for over ten years. Now he runs Thema Mundi Studio.

Vanessa Chang is a writer, curator, educator, and Senior Program Manager at Leonardo/ISAST. She holds a Ph.D. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University and teaches at California College of the Arts. Most recently, she curated Recoding CripTech at SOMArts Cultural Center, Intersections at the Leonardo Convening at Fort Mason Center for the Arts, and Artobots, a CODAME festival of art, automation and artificial intelligence. She was also lead investigator for The Grid: Art + Tech Report (2020). She has appeared on NPR’s On the Media,State of the Art, Disability Visibility, and Ö1’s Repairing the Future, and her work has appeared in such venues as Art in America, Wired, Slate, Noema, Los Angeles Review of Books, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other venues.

Bettina Wodianka holds a Ph.D. in Media Studies from University of Basel and is Cultural Program Curator at the Goethe-Institut San Francisco. She studied theatre science, literature science and psychology at the LMU Munich. From 2011 to 2016, she was a researcher at the Department of Media Studies at the University of Basel, and a doctoral candidate in the Swiss National Science Foundation‘s graduate study program Intermedial Aesthetics.

This event is part of the Litquake 2021 Festival. Check out the Litquake website to learn more about it: https://www.litquake.org/


October 10, 2021
6:30 pm


City Lights Bookstore
View Organizer Website