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“Robots are going to kill us!”: Exploring sci-fi blockbusters’ representation of female cyborgs and its impacts on audiences’ perception of human-machine communication


The present project examines to what extent female cyborgs (feminized human-like robots as a typical type of super AI) are portrayed in the fictional and imagined discourse, the sci-fi blockbusters. It also examines how audiences in different social and cultural contexts make sense of such fictional representations of AI technologies.

The project aims to identify several typical and influential movies containing female cyborgs in their plot by using a network analytics approach. It constructs the “citation networks” among the related movies; when any pair of two movies are connected if one movie is referenced (“cited”) by another movie. A detailed qualitative discourse analysis on the plots, scripts, and images of these identified important movies will be performed. To examine audiences’ readings of these movies, the present study will perform a text mining study on user’s ratings and online comments of these movies in professional movie forums. Supplementary qualitative interviews will be made to cope with the online comment data and to understand sci-fi movies viewers on their readings, attitudes, and beliefs on gender issues and AI’s societal impact.

The project reveals the public discourse on the (un)ethical behaviors of machines represented in the fictional texts and how these fictional figures are understood by the public. It offers humanistic critiques of emerging digital technologies. It contributes to the related theories of AI and digital humanities, and also advances the interdisciplinary methodological potentials of computational social science research by using human’s digital trace data and computational methods to study human society.

Required skills

The candidate should be familiar with social network analysis, text mining (especially for social media data), and online data collection, data processing, and data visualization. Knowledge and motivation to work with interdisciplinary research on computational social science, AI and digital humanities, and the critical studies of AI and society will be a plus.

Principal Investigator


Dr. Zhang

Dr. Xinzhi Zhang

Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism



Dr. Mengoni

Dr. Paolo Mengoni 

Lecturer, Department of Journalism


Dr. Li Cui (External)



Dr. Nancy Guo (External)