Studying Sentience

I’ve given much thought lately to digital spaces. In 2015, I finished my dissertation about the nonhuman, specifically nonhuman animals in Native American Literature. I spent my entire graduate career thinking about what it means to be human and the myriad ways we are unaware of what it means to be nonhuman. As I moved from graduate school to a postdoctoral program, I kept my focus on the nonhuman but shifted to thinking about what it means to be non-sentient. Along with this change in focus–from the nonhuman animal to the non-sentient being–I shifted from producing critical scholarship to creative work in the genre of science fiction. My current research, which informs my teaching and short stories, has led me to dwell on the nature of artificial intelligence and the probable future of sharing our spaces with artificially-intelligent beings. Sentience, like any concept, is not set in stone; however, many Indigenous ontologies regard stones to be sentient. I speculate about a rapidly approaching future, a future where we will need to think carefully about how we currently define the concept of “sentience,” a future where we might re-define it in a better way.

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