First International Workshop on the
History of Speech Communication Research (HSCR 2015)
September 4-5, 2015
The Power of Communication. Apps as Human Substitutes in Science-Fiction Films
MitteleuropaZentrum der TU-Dresden, Dresden, Germany
Inanimate entities being able to speak belongs to the traumatic experiences during
modernisms 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 mans 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, lets 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.
Schmitz, Walter (2015):
"The power of communication. apps as human substitutes in science-fiction films",
In HSCR-2015, 15-21.