University of Nebraska-Lincoln English professor Guy Reynolds will kick off a new lecture series with a talk on the relationship between science fiction writing and technology.
The series, hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, is called CAS Inquire and will be hosted in the Union Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. on certain Tuesdays throughout the year, starting Sept. 10. This year’s theme is "The Rise of the Machines."
Reynolds plans to reference four pieces of 20th century British literature. He said that his lecture will discuss the ways that writers at the time were affected by the rise of technology, and how the predictions they made often went to extremes of either being dominated by technology or dominating others with it.
“We can see the ways in which writers have tried to create anti-myths or stories about how we might resist the machines by accommodating them,” Reynolds said. “There’s a classic opposition in fiction that puts technology in the binary of either good or bad, but technology will continue to unfold whether we want it to or not. It’s important to find a complex, nonbinary understanding of both the good and the bad.”
Reynolds said if his audience could take away one thing from his lecture on Tuesday, it would be to not be afraid of machines, even if they might be frightening.
“We’re on the cusp of something that’s going to be quite remarkable,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything [like it] yet.”
The new series has been in the works for over a year, according to June Griffin, the associate dean of undergraduate education for the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We wanted a big, important idea that our faculty could examine from the different perspectives of their disciplines,” Griffin said. “The audience should see a topic from different views and come to a broader understanding of the overall issue.”
According to Griffin, the theme is meant to foster a deeper understanding between the different majors within the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We’re the biggest college on campus, and extremely diverse,” Griffin said. “Sometimes people will identify so strongly with their majors and their departments that they don’t always associate with the other parts of the college. We know that the one thing that brings everybody together is curiosity.”
The series will connect the arts and the sciences, according to Griffin. She said that Reynolds’ pitch for his lecture on the cultural reception of machines was not what the committee had expected, which made it a perfect way to start a series based on analyzing the same broad idea from different perspectives.
“I’m not a scientist, but I do know how writers have responded to machines and how they have created storylines and fictions around machines,” Reynolds said. “The history of the relationship between culture and machines is a very complicated one, and it’s still unfolding today.”
The series will continue into Spring 2020, and, if it goes well, Griffin said she hopes to continue it in following years. She also said that each lecture will include perspectives from areas such as anthropology, artificial intelligence and the future of genetics, in the hopes that attendees will be able to broaden their knowledge and apply it across disciplines.
“Our college really allows people to focus on their passion area, but also get a grounding in other topics,” Griffin said. “This way, when you get out into the world and are engaged in problem-solving, you understand the perspectives and the culture of knowledge that comes from other disciplines.”