The Project

Social Robot Futures is part of a five-year research project, led by Dr. Teresa Heffernan, called “Where Science Meets Fiction: Social Robots and the Ethical Imagination.” Funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHCR), the project explores the ethical and existential questions that emerge from the entanglement of the science and the fiction of robotics/AI. It considers why science uses fiction even as it marginalizes the literary imagination in discussions of a technological future, why the animal is so often problematically collapsed with the machine, and how the categories and narratives about robots and animals differently produce the human. The primary objective of the project is to produce a book-length interdisciplinary study that take seriously the borders between fiction, science, and ethics by putting these fields in dialogue with one another. The fieldwork component of the study entails meeting designers of robotics/AI to trace where fictional models come into play in their work, why scientists invoke them, and where fictional narratives and scientific practices intersect, differ, breakdown, and conflict. As a component of the project, Social Robot Futures is intended to provide an interdisciplinary source of news, research and commentary associated with robotics/AI. The site also serves as an archive for the interviews, conference papers and published work associated with the project.


Teresa Heffernan is Professor of English at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is author of Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth-Century Novel (University of Toronto Press, 2008) and Veiled Figures: Women, Modernity, and the Spectres of Orientalism (University of Toronto Press, 2016). She is co-editor (with Daniel O’Quinn) of a critical edition of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2012). She is series editor, with Reina Lewis, of Cultures in Dialogue (Website: http://culturesindialogue.com/main/home, developed with SSHRC research funding). She is co-editor (with Jill Didur) of a special issue of Cultural Studies entitled “Revisiting the Subaltern in the New Empire” and of a special issue of Cultural Critique (with Jill Didur and Bart Simon) on “Posthumanism.” Her articles have appeared in journals such as Studies in the Novel, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Arab Journal for the Humanities, Subject Matters, Canadian Literature, and Twentieth Century Literature.

Karen Asp is a PhD candisate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, Toronto, where she is focusing on capitalist accumulation, technocracy and ecological degradation in the so-called “Anthropocene Era.” She has a BA in politics and two Masters degrees, in geography and in social and political thought (SPT). She is Social Robot Future’s web designer/manager, and occasional blogger.


Keynotes, Invited Talks, and Conferences

Heffernan, T. “Coding Life: Frankenstein, Monsters and Robots,” Bristol Festival of Ideas, April 2016. Invited.

Heffernan, T. “Robot Capital, Animals, and Rights Discourse,” Digital Cultures, University of the West of England, April 2016. Invited.

Heffernan, T. “From Petman to Pepper: Robot Emotions and the Deadly Logic of Cuteness,”  The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness Conference, University of Amsterdam, October, 2015. Keynote.

Heffernan, T. “Science, Fiction, and the Death Drive,” End Times Colloquium, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, July 2014. Keynote.

Heffernan, T. “Careless Rights: Humans, Animals, Robots,” Fictions of Threat Workshop, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, July 2014. Keynote.

Heffernan, T. “Robot Capital, Commodity Fetishism, and Rights Discourse,” Mosaic: A Matter of Life/death, University of Manitoba Winnipeg, October, 2014.

Asp, K. “Mortal Choices: Instrumentality and Freedom in Haraway’s Companion Species Relations,” Mosaic: A Matter of Life/death, University of Manitoba Winnipeg, October, 2014.


Heffernan, T. “The Post-Apocalyptic Imaginary: Science, Fiction, and the Death Drive” English Studies in Africa 58.1 (2015). Special Issue.

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