Author Archives: Dan O'Hara

Dan O'Hara


The Thinking Girl’s Guide to the Robot Apocalypse


Not many academics can say that they’ve had their research poached by novelists and turned into a seriously successful young adult novel. At the time of writing it’s not far short of a million reads.

I’m A Cyborg’s Pet is a shocking sci-fi BDSM robo-dystopia, inspired by a couple of papers I wrote with Ben Kirman, Conor Linehan, Shaun Lawson, and Laura Buttrick. I do suggest you read it because, whatever version of the future you’re expecting, it’s probably wrong. And nowhere near as funny.

IBM Watson, Futurism NYC


This summer I spoke about Artificial Intelligence at IBM Watson’s new headquarters at 51 Astor Place in Manhattan, as part of a panel with Douglas Rushkoff, Martine Rothblatt, Steve Fuller, and Michael Krasnicki. It was apparently the first time any ‘outsiders’ – other than corporate clients and press – have been permitted to enter the inner sanctum of the new IBM building.

Trying to explain to the makers of a real Artificial Intelligence what the concept of ‘intelligence’ means turned out to be not so easy, especially when the audience at the small, crazily-high-security event turned out to be more expert than the panel. NYC A-List Hari Kunzru, Lee Child, Kevin Slavin, Carla Gannis, the faculties from NYU, NYTU, Pratt, CUNY – not to mention the IBM insiders… If I’d known in advance who’d be in the audience I might have quailed.

The evening before, I gave a talk about the history of AI at Futurism NYC on Wall Street. A couple of the participants there persuaded me to shave my head so that I could have my cranium scanned, and I’m now apparently 20% of the Megadome, which is the template for the Ultracortex. No, I can’t explain. But the Open Brain-Computer Interface founders at @OpenBCI can.

NESTA Hot Topics – Futurefest – London Tech Week


…and back in London, finally, I spoke at the NESTA/Futurefest event Ready Player Two. It was about the future of Virtual Reality, but I tended more towards the past, talking about Ancient Egyptian belief systems that simulated an AI-like surveillance system and, to the mild consternation of the audience, what Immanuel Kant has to say about VR.

The panel consisted of Jess Bland moderating, Luciana Haill, Rob Morgan, and Zillah Watson – a really adventurous combination of journalistic, artistic, and gaming narrative competence. More panels should be this varied.

NESTA did a great job on this one, though the attendees made the day: when the audience realized that the event wasn’t being livestreamed, they simply self-organized themselves into a team using Periscope to stream it themselves! A Storify is here, and photos are on NESTA’s FB page.

Brain Bar Budapest


Last week I was in Budapest to talk about the history of AI at the astonishing Brain Bar Budapest. It’s only their first year, but @BrainBarBP already looks like a world-class festival. Alongside my NCH colleague Niall Ferguson (as a hologram!), Sugata Mitra, Benjamin Bratton, Philip Zimbardo, Pia Mancini, and Steve Fuller, among others, we debated the many possible futures of humanity.

Artificial Intelligence and HowTheLightGetsIn


Early in May, I took part in a roundtable discussion about AI and the future of work hosted by the marvellous Red and Click Software. The event was covered widely, so no need for me to describe it: Computing have an excellent article on it, as do The Inquirer and IT Pro.

Later in May I was at the amazing HowTheLightGetsIn festival in Hay-on-Wye. It’s the world’s biggest philosophy and music festival, and it looked like it. I spoke on a couple of days: one talk on the history of AI, the other on evolution and technology. The Institute for Art and Ideas will post videos shortly.

Global Art Forum, Art Dubai 2015

Art Dubai, Madinat Jumeira ©Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi

I’m hugely excited to be speaking at the Global Art Forum at Art Dubai later today, March the 19th. I’ll be discussing the theme of Artificial Intelligence with Cécile B. Evans and Shumon Basar. Video to come later…

New College of the Humanities

New College of the Humanities
New College of the Humanities

As of September I joined the New College of the Humanities in London as Senior Lecturer in English. Goodbye, Berlin!  Goodbye, Rio de Janeiro! I’d thought that no-one would ever manage to tear me away from the beach at Ipanema. But A. C. Grayling has assembled such an astonishing faculty at NCH, it beat the beach (mas, meus amigos Brasileiros, não se preocupe! Eu vou voltar. Eu tenho saudades do Brasil. Ayayay Santa Teresa…)

Research January to June 2014

Fifty Shades of CHI
Fifty Shades of CHI video still

The biggest global conference on Human-Computer Interaction, CHI 2014, took place in Toronto in May. Last year at CHI I collaborated with the Lincoln Social Computing Research Centre on a paper called ‘The Future Robot Enslavement of Mankind’, which looked back from an imaginary future to congratulate Homo Sapiens on its contribution to its own near-obsolesence.

This year we collaborated once again to contribute a paper called ‘Fifty Shades Of CHI’, which “uses the form and language of erotic BDSM romance fiction to present a critical lens on the nature of power in the relationship between people and contemporary technology”. The official download is here, as is the video; or you can download the e-print from the Lincoln repository. I’m wondering where we can go next year in terms of genre. With scifi and porn done and dusted, the options are limited.

Shortly before that, I finally published “Deleuze, diagramas, e arte esquizofrênica”, the talk I gave at  Colóquio Deleuze & Guattari: Filosofia Prática in Rio de Janeiro in 2011. (It’s in Portuguese, but you might want to download it just for the pictures: e-print here).

My reason for not being in Toronto in May was that I was speaking about J. G. Ballard at the very splendid Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds. The occasion was a wonderful, intense conference called Landcapes of Tomorrow: J. G. Ballard in Space and Time. Apparently one of the highlights of the conference was my description of the ur-accelerationist Mr Toad having an orgasm as he crashes an imaginary car in The Wind and the Willows. Audio of the talk is allegedly available somewhere on the internet.

In the middle of all this, in late May I managed to fail to speak at the University of Lincoln conference As Above, So Below: A Colloquium on Drone Culture: a huge disappointment to me, both because it turned out to be a fabulous conference and as I’d been looking forward to returning to Lincoln so much. My intention is to polish the paper I wished to give into at least open-access format and make it available here on my site and/or on

And in June I spoke at the British Association for Modernist Studies conference Modernism Now! at Senate House, the University of London, about ‘Beckett, Acceleration, and the Ruin of Language’. This I took as an opportunity to fill some of the literary lacunae in the reading lists of the accelerationists du jour; there’s a lot more work to be done on that front.

It’s been a busy few months – and this is without even mentioning a couple of very productive trips to Poland, a fascinating private view courtesy of the Ballard estate, a very strange interview with the New Scientist, and a new post in London.  But news of all that can wait.


Extreme Metaphors on general release

The paperback edition of Extreme Metaphors goes on sale on the 30 January, with a new cover, new design from the in-house HarperCollins team, and a rather enticing price-tag. Here’s what some of the reviewers had to say about it:

Extreme Metaphors Ballard prerelease cover
Extreme Metaphors. J.G. Ballard. prerelease cover

Extreme Metaphors is such an absorbing read. Just as the letters of certain writers – Keats, Wilde, Flaubert – have come to seem invaluable, unmissable parts of their oeuvres, so this collection of forty-odd bits of journalism can be enjoyed as a kind of protracted non-fiction novel”, Kevin Jackson, Literary Review

“Impeccably edited, the book serves as a valuable coda to one of the strangest and most haunted imaginations in English literature”  Ian Thomson, Books of the Year, Observer

“An illuminating and at times revelatory collection of more than 40 interviews given over 41 years” John Gray, New Statesman

“Several pieces are previously unpublished, or translated for the first time, and devotees will find plenty to enjoy” Andrew McKie, Spectator

“I will be very surprised if any novel this year gives me as much pleasure as this book. And I can guarantee (now that Ballard is dead) that no novel will contain so many provocative, intriguing and visionary ideas” Julian Gough, Irish Times

The Economist explains: What is skeuomorphism?

The Economist explains: What is skeuomorphism?
The Economist explains: What is skeuomorphism?

The Economist features my work on skeuomorphism today: the article is here.

Following the BBC’s article a couple of weeks ago, it’s good to see another substantial and critical mainstream analysis. I’m flattered that The Economist features my work so heavily, and even links to my last paper on the topic. Nonetheless, the debate still has to break away from the superficial before any real progress can be made. As the article notes, Apple’s new iOS7 aims “to ditch this sort of thing [skeuomorphism] in favour of an approach that arises more directly from the capabilities of hardware and software” – yet that’s exactly the point at which one could expect to see true skeuomorphs emerging.

What Apple are really ditching is a human design choice: the use of verisimilitude as a point of affordance. What they’re most definitely not ditching, or even demonstrating any awareness of, is the long-term interplay of obsolescence and cultural mimicry that drives technological evolution.