This Year’s Sadar Lecture: “Automating Writing from Androids to AI”

A Lecture by Annette Vee.
Tinkham Veale University Center Senior Classroom.
Monday, December 11th, 2023, 3:15—4:30pm (reception following).

Generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT have suddenly thrust the automation of writing into the public spotlight. The machine learning techniques behind Large Language Models such as the GPT series may be new; however, for centuries, humans have attempted to automate writing using mechanical, spiritual, and logical means. The automation of writing parallels a longer history of automation, yet with a twist: each of these attempts to automate writing also implicated a kind of artificial human intelligence. Writing is uniquely human, and as such, it has served as a touchstone for scientific and literary imaginations focused on replicating human intelligence. This presentation puts current conversations about AI writing in historical context with 18th century automata, 19th century spiritualists, and 20th century computer scientists to probe both what writing meant in previous eras as well as dominant assumptions of what it meant to be human in these eras.

Annette Vee is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Composition Program at University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in writing and digital composition. She is the author of Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing (MIT Press, 2017), and co-editor of TextGenEd: Teaching with Text Generation Technologies (WAC Clearinghouse, 2023). She has published on computer programming, blockchain technologies, intellectual property, and AI-based text generation. Her current book project, Automating Writing from Androids to AI, examines why and how humans have sought to automate writing across history.

Further info here.