Project summary

The future of AI is a site of considerable philosophical and cultural anxiety in the West. Given the future of AI is currently only available to publics through literary or fictional tropes, it’s vital that we investigate the historical evolution of these literary or fictional tropes of AI to understand its future direction. 

This project aims to understand (1) how the post-Darwinian literary imagination has shaped our current anxieties about AI and (2) how literary and scientific writers after Darwin rethink the future of the human species by imagining the co-evolution of humans, animals and machines. Expected outcomes of the project include conceptual resources to understand the human-nonhuman relation and the future of AI. 


  • to situate the historical origins of current hopes and fears in the West about the emergence of AI in nineteenth century intellectual debates about Darwinian evolution 
  • to produce the first literary prehistory of AI by examining the evolution of AI in the literary imagination from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century
  • to develop a conceptual framework for how literature mediates our understanding of the future of AI.

Benefits & impacts

The project delivers national benefits by putting current anxieties that machines will usurp human employment and autonomy into historical perspective. Literature is a vital but missing voice in the current discourse about how societies might evolve with the advent of AI. The project will broaden the debate about AI in the Australian and international community by demonstrating that an array of international literary writers have shaped how we conceptualise and implement AI and robotics technology.

It will contribute to the international renown of Australian scholarship in literary studies by producing the first literary prehistory of AI that examines the evolution of the literary imagination of AI from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. It will also contribute to the productive engagement between the Arts and science in Australia by demonstrating how literary representations of the human-machine interaction impact AI and robotics research and current theoretical debates about what it means to be human. The project will enhance Australia’s capacity to better understand and negotiate the evolving place of AI.


Associate Professor Chris Danta (School of the Arts and Media)

Funding body

Australian Research Council / Future Fellowship

Research area

Literary studies