First International Workshop on the History of Speech Communication Research (HSCR 2015)

Dresden, Germany
September 4-5, 2015

The Power of Communication. Apps as Human Substitutes in Science-Fiction Films

Walter Schmitz

MitteleuropaZentrum der TU-Dresden, Dresden, Germany


Inanimate entities being able to speak belongs to the traumatic experiences during modernism’s initial phase around 1800. After all, the preceding century had witnessed the movement of Enlightenment put at the center of knowledge and science man, i.e. the man of reason, able of speech. Thusly Herder had described it in his treatise on the origin of language, a superlative corollary from a number of earlier ideas: Man orders the world by sounds converted into language.
    Around 1810, artificial humans emerge even in literature, the latter functioning once more as a seismograph of deep collective fears. The fascination of life being mimicked by mechanics reveals its nocturnal side, its ›Nachtseite‹ (Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert). If man can be replicated, and if such an automaton actually possesses speech, then man himself is subject to renegotiation. He can be replaced, or rather she, for the epitome of this is the female robot Olympia, the talking marionette driving mad the enamored man. The female in the anthropology of sexes around 1800 is the embodiment of Nature, which in the course of history as made by man is only barely sustainable anyway, though at the same time the one sole saving presence. Woman becomes the simulacrum of the horror of man’s final replacement. – In our postmodern times, though, a thing that talks no longer provokes anyone. Not only are humans constantly surrounded by voices to which belongs no human speaker. Technological simulations making themselves useful, announcing the time, answering simple questions, conveying all kinds of information – no panic is caused by this. A talking mirror is no longer a prop out of a fairy tale like, let’s say, Snow White. Technological media of communication, which initially merely transmitted voice-info, have now become voiceproducing. Mankind enters into an interlinking of man and machine that seems to be part of a far-reaching agenda of Human Enhancement, and as such is willingly accepted by many. Man is part of a circular flow of information. No longer subject, neither object, rather to be described as a not-insignificant knot in a far-and-wide-ranging net.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Schmitz, Walter (2015): "The power of communication. apps as human substitutes in science-fiction films", In HSCR-2015, 15-21.