Abstract

Abstract:

This essay shows how popular and technical discourses of autism treat the condition as a form of artificial intelligence. Offering a genealogy of so-called mechanical brains, it argues that attempts to rehabilitate liberal subjectivity in an age of information overload created the conceptual and cultural conditions necessary for computational theories of mind, which inform the most prominent studies of autism. As distinctions between biological and machinic intelligence gave way to distinctions between authentic and artificial intelligence, autism emerged as an intermediary for consolidating divergent understandings of cognitive difference. Since the mid-twentieth century, autism has come to signal the superhuman potential of artificial intelligence and, at the same time, mark the threshold computers must surpass to achieve authentic intelligence. Autism contains anxieties about automation while also sustaining fantasies of maximized brainpower. It indicates both deficit and surfeit, strength and weakness. This essay leverages those oppositions to suggest how theories of disability and posthumanism might productively trouble one another: first to track constructions of intelligent personhood alongside information technologies, then to read an alternative construction of autistic intelligence that points toward new cognitive subjectivities.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 52-79
Launched on MUSE
2021-02-26
Open Access
No
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