Frankenstein 200 Panel Discussion: “Creation and Consequence”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 | 6:30 p.m.
Danforth Conference Room, Cohon University Center
Free to attend. Pre-registration requested.

Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley introduced the ill-fated scientist Victor Frankenstein and his unnamed creation. Although many critics focus on Frankenstein as a figure of hubris, working against the will of gods and natural law, he can also be considered in terms of his obsession: the quest to create life, without thought for the results or consequences. For Frankenstein, those consequences came in the form of attacks on his family and friends as his creation turned on its creator, something that Isaac Asimov went on to describe as the “Frankenstein Complex.” Since the coining of that term, this theme has remained prevalent in popular culture, from "2001: A Space Odyssey," to the "Terminator" franchise, and most recently HBO’s "Westworld." It is also alive in public discourse thanks to Elon Musk and others who fear the advent of artificial intelligence. 

At this event, a panel of scholars from across Carnegie Mellon University will examine the relevance of Shelley’s novel today, particularly how it helps frame the responsibility of investigators to consider the consequences of artificial intelligence and a technologically-augmented human society.

Presented by the University Libraries in collaboration with the Alumni Association’s CMUThink program.


  • Jeffrey Bigham, Associate Professor, Human-Computer Interaction and Language Technologies Institutes, School of Computer Science 
  • David Danks, L. L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy & Psychology, and Head of the Department of Philosophy, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Barry Luokkala, Teaching Professor and Director of Undergraduate Physics Laboratories, Department of Physics, Mellon College of Science
  • Molly Wright Steenson, Associate Professor & Director of Doctor of Design (D.Des) program, School of Design


  • Rikk Mulligan, Digital Scholarship Strategist

6:30 p.m. Panel Discussion
7:30 p.m. Reception 

Free to attend. Pre-registration requested.


Speaker Bios

Jeffrey P. Bigham is an Associate Professor in the Human-Computer Interaction and Language Technologies Institutes in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. His research combines crowds and artificial intelligence to make novel deployable interactive systems, and ultimately solve hard problems in computer science. Many of these systems are designed with a deep understanding of the needs of people with disabilities to be useful in their everyday lives. Dr. Bigham received his B.S.E degree in Computer Science from Princeton University in 2003, and received his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Washington in 2009. He has received the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the MIT Technology Review Top 35 Innovators Under 35 Award, and the National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

David Danks is the L. L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy & Psychology, and Head of the Department of Philosophy, at Carnegie Mellon University. He works at the intersection of philosophy, cognitive science, and machine learning, integrating ideas, methods, and frameworks from each to advance our understanding of complex, cross-disciplinary problems. Most recently, Danks has used interdisciplinary approaches to address the human and social impacts when autonomous capabilities are introduced into technological systems, whether self-driving cars, autonomous weapons, or healthcare robots. His work is both theoretical and practical, including collaborations with industry groups and government agencies. His earlier work on computational cognitive science resulted in his book, Unifying the Mind: Cognitive Representations as Graphical Models, which developed an integrated cognitive model of complex human cognition.

Barry Luokkala is Teaching Professor and Director of Undergraduate Physics Laboratories in the Department of Physics. He also serves as editor of the physics alumni newsletter, INTER*ACTIONS, and as curator of the Victor Bearg Physics Museum. Luokkala is the Director of the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences (PGSS) and has been involved in numerous outreach activities to promote science education. As a member of the faculty at Carnegie Mellon, Luokkala helped shape the introductory experimental physics course into its present form, and has created a new laboratory course for students in the pre-health professions. He also created two courses on the subject of science and science fiction: A mini-course for first-year students in the Mellon College of Science, and a full-semester course open to anyone on campus. He has been invited to speak on several occasions on various aspects of science fiction. He has been instrumental in the design of new undergraduate science laboratories. His recently published book, Exploring Science Through Science Fiction (Springer 2014), makes science accessible to students in the nontechnical disciplines and at the same time provides enough scientific detail to also be interesting to more technically-oriented students.

Molly Wright Steenson​ is a designer, researcher, and author whose work focuses on the intersection of design, architecture, and artificial intelligence. She is an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the School of Design and author of the forthcoming book Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape (MIT Press, Fall 2017), which tells the radical history of AI’s impact on design and architecture and how it poured the foundation for contemporary digital design. A web pioneer since 1994, she’s worked at groundbreaking design studios, consultancies, and Fortune 500 companies. She's previously been a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an adjunct at Art Center in the Media Design Practices program, and a resident professor at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Ivrea, Italy. Molly holds a PhD in architecture from Princeton University and a master’s in architectural history from Yale. 

Rikk Mulligan is Digital Scholarship Strategist in the Hunt Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. He holds a PhD in American Studies from Michigan State University where he specialized in popular culture, particularly science fiction, fantasy, and horror; genre media more broadly, and comic books. His research focuses on intersections between popular culture and political criticism in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He has presented on these topics at the National Popular Culture/American Culture and Southwest Popular/American Culture Conferences, the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, and the Science Fiction Research Association. He also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Popular Culture. He has published on apocalyptic narratives including Battlestar Galactica and the zombie apocalypse in contemporary literature and media, as well as critical studies of graphic novels and comic books.