Artificial Intelligence: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Walter Van Pose Lorez - The Library Robot

The Library Robot by Walter Van Pose Lorez

Why is it that we expect robots to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) and not our coffee machines? Or our cars?


Steampunk Coffee Machines standing at attention


Self-driving car – is that not the sweetest baby face? Clever marketing!

Thinking machines are years and years away from thinking like human beings, and they may never think like human beings. Tarnation – even the best scientists on the planet can’t tell you how human beings think. Not really. No matter what they may claim. All that a robot can do is mimic the behaviour of a human being – they are superb actors and actresses.


Human beings are programmed to recognise human beings (I’ve brought this up before). With robots, we seem hell-bent on discovering the ghost in the machine. As a writer, this makes my job both easier and harder. It is easier because my audience will work with me to construct a personality for any robot I might invent in a Steampunk narrative. It is harder, because if I attempt to make my robot think in unique and alien ways, the audience might misread it as sinister or aggressive, even if that isn’t my intention.

Begging robot

So, how do we (as writers) avoid anthropomorphic personification of android and gynoid robots? Just because a machine has a humanoid shape, it shouldn’t mean it has humanoid emotions or concerns, and we should try to figure out what motivates the robot. Is it a logical and rational thinking machine? (By-the-bye, being logical doesn’t automatically make you cold or emotionless, like Spock.) Does your robot have a very narrow area of interest, like a satnav or a laboratory analytical machine? How is it powered, and does it need to power down on a regular basis. Is it autonomous or does it report back to a central controlling machine? Don’t just slap a human being into a tin suit and call it a robot!


Filed under Robots, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Uncategorized, writing

2 responses to “Artificial Intelligence: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

  1. I completely agree and therein lies a problem I have with some steampunk stories. The ones that feel (without any logic) they must mimic technology we have today. (There’s a webseries that felt the need to have fully functioning Internet, might as well have just made it present day – would have saved on costumes.)

    If steampunk is “Retro-Vicwardian Science Fiction” then those stories are anti-Steampunk.

    I think that unless there is a compelling reason and logic to having robots (or any form of thinking machine) they should not even exist.

    Except I have them 🙂

    But only from 1911 onwards when they were developed. Every question about how they can work is answered, they could not have existed any earlier – and they don’t think with cogwheels. Most barely think at all.

    In fact they appear in my alternate 1933 short horror story “After Curfew” which is available to read free on Medium I hope I made them sufficiently alien.

    • I have automations in my stories, since they have seen around for hundreds of years. They are unable to ‘think’ at all, and so have no emotions or creative thoughts of their own. And Babbage was inventing computer prototypes, and so an actual ‘robot’ was theoretically possible.

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