I'm writing two academic papers currently, and have discovered the point where things get absurd and I need something that is lighter and more enjoyable - the kind of feeling that spawned The Journal Of Irreproducible Results.
As a fan of the show Westworld, I'd enjoy producing a paper which uses it as a medium to examine how AI can be implemented to fit grand contexts like storylines, a large park with unpredictable interference, and the social interactions that humans consider normal. There are more than a dozen Ph.D thesis that use Star Trek extensively - but they are all in the humanities, and they tend to examine things like the show's allusions to ancient mythology and history (which were rife in the show), or cultural perceptions of the show. I do not know of any papers in the hard science that used Star Trek in any significant way to explain or illustrate concepts.
Westworld, however, is different. There are several scenes that display real issues in computer science, the problems that can be encountered, and potential solutions. The show also included a well-architected software framework that all the hosts work within, and an excellent division of responsibilities within the code. So, while Star Trek used fictional physics, the computer science in Westworld is realistic - the AI may be exaggerated, but the fundamental approaches and issues were real. This paper would be weekend work and I'd write it to distract myself from the toils of the more traditional papers. Spoilers follow.
So my question is: can a fictional world be the basis and foundation for a serious academic analysis? I would diversify the subject to include other examples, but I don't think there are any that are elucidated well enough.
A perfect example is in Season 1 episode 3, when a woodcutter wanders off because he was tampered with. The park was only alerted to the problem because the woodcutter's group hadn't moved for several days. Upon investigation, the humans found the woodcutter's camp and the rest of the crew bickering over who should cut some wood for the campfire so they could cook dinner. The lumberjack was the only host allowed to use the ax - which is registered as a deadly weapon and the other characters were not authorized to use it. The circular bickering among the group is very similar to deadlock - they are all waiting for a resource and requesting it from each other, but the entity that can provide the resource is unresponsive. The group had no handling for a condition where the woodcutter wandered off, even though it presumably had some form of handling for a situation where the woodcutter was killed (that problem would be solved by the role-based plotlines, which I would cover in another part of the paper, and these are an extremely consistent and well-illustrated part of the show.) I would argue that the bickering is an optimal way for AI to handle that situation. The only solution the AI could create on its own - to let someone else do the work - would violate the safety protocol which has god-level precedence. The solution for park management is to kill the woodcutter host (or at least terminate him in that storyline), so the role can be re-designated to another host, and that can be programmed into the group's storyline as an exception case.
The show has many aspects like this; I think it has enough to reverse-engineer the highest levels of the software framework and treat it as a case study. That architecture would be applicable to current or near-future video games that are built around a storyline such as Fallout, Witcher, and similar. Other sources have already noted things like markov chains on the control tablets in the show.
I would write the paper to the highest standard possible, especially regarding diagrams and with a focus on making it more understandable to a broader computer science audience than just AI or systems architecture researchers. The references section may even be larger than usable, as I would compare a number of existing frameworks to show how they could be applied in the show. And I would try to do it without killing the enjoyment of the show.