In Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Scott Selisker offers readers a fascinating new history of American anxieties...

In Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Scott Selisker offers readers a fascinating new history of American anxieties along the borderland between the machine and the human mind. Demonstrating the way that a variety of fields influence and coproduce one another, Human Programming follows the metaphor of the automaton through news media, fiction, psychology, cybernetics, film, law and back again. Along the way, Selisker engages academic work on labor automation, posthumanism, affect and emotion, and techno-Orientalism.

Through careful interpretation of books on American soldiers returning from the Korean War, the trial of Patty Hearst, the narrative logic of Snow Crash and Blade Runner, the central conflicts of Homeland and the Manchurian Candidate, and the baffled news reports on John Walker Lindh, Human Programming “offers a new literary and cultural context for understanding the human automaton figure” as it has appeared and reappeared over the half century, and explores how the metaphor of the automaton has “shaped American conversations about the self and other, the free and unfree, and democracy and its enemies, since World War II” (7, 8). Beginning with a prehistory in WWII propaganda, this timely study comes up to a present in which we replace our employees with touchscreens, rely on machine learning to translate our conversations, use proprietary software to plot our routes, and deny the human freedom of our fellow citizens.


Carl Nellis is an academic editor and writing instructor working north of Boston, where he researches contemporary American community formation around appropriations of medieval European culture. You can learn more about Carls work at carlnellis.wordpress.com.

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