— Norma De Jesus (@gibsonite1984) September 19, 2014
— German_Lit (@Immyself_Lit) September 19, 2014
— DAB64 (@HaylesLit80S) September 19, 2014
— Wintermute (@TheWintermute) September 19, 2014
— Hayles Hayles (@CyberHayles) September 19, 2014
— stargould Bot (@StarGouldBot) September 18, 2014
This past week our class went to the DiVE (Duke’s Interactive Virtual Environment), a cube with projected walls creating a 3-D interactive atmosphere, and we tested various different simulations within this environment. Looking back at this experience, after having read Neuromancer by William Gibson, I am fascinated and at the same time scared by how quickly technology can, and is, evolving human life. In my mind, the perspective of the DiVE and the perspective of Neuromancer on the subject of technology’s future uses were opposites.
The DiVE team has many developing projects focused on training simulations that can prepare someone for a real life situation, removing the real risk of a dangerous situation, while still mentally and tactically schooling an individual. One example the DiVE crew gave us was the cave military training that can be implemented to mentally prepare soldiers before they would actually have to perform the mission. These potential projects demonstrated the usefulness and positive outlook that technology can have to enhance our real (non-virtual) lives.
In contrast, the Neuromancer reading takes an approach where a dystopian futuristic society rises through the evolution of technology. To me, Case was an example of how technology had, in a sense, overpowered and belittled a life without the matrix. In a setting where there are holograms and where characters all had some level of technological or physical modification, technology was intertwined to the point of blurring the distinction between technology and the natural. Case explains the view of the sky as, “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” (Gibson 1) due to this technology-driven culture. Furthermore, Case represents the dependency that continues to grow for technology, after the “adrenaline high… jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the con sensual hallucination that was the matrix” (Gibson 8), he prefers the virtual life of a hacker in the matrix than the real in his life. His disregard for the real in his life is perfectly depicted by his sense of confinement within his own body, a “relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh” (Gibson 8).
This perspective on a technology-dependent future is a scary thought, and it is dangerous to think about how just as technology can prove to be so beneficial to society, society can also become an “unsupervised playground for technology itself” (Gibson 11). Technology is already creating dependencies in our lives, but looking as to how fast technological advancements are occurring, I wonder how is it that we can “supervise” ourselves from reaching a point such as this Neuromancer society.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
Despite the DIVE being a little bit less than what I expected, I gained more appreciation for virtual reality, programming, and how the human brain works to deceive our perception. The six-screened cube provided us an immersive experience that engaged the senses of sight and sound. Had the DIVE engaged additional senses such as touch and smell, the experience, apart from being completely different, would’ve made us feel 100% part of the cybernetic experience. Perhaps in the near future, technology will develop a virtual reality so immersive it will be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. These types of overarching themes are portrayed in William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer. The setting of the story gives us context of the type of virtual atmosphere Gibson wanted to convey. “Synonymous with implants, nerve-splicing, and micro bionics, Chiba was a magnet for the Sprawl’s techno-criminal subcultures” (Gibson, pg.3) The book portrays proper various examples of virtual reality. From Molly being swiped free of her memory in an attempt to forget her past, to Case attempting to utilize technology to fix his damaged nervous system, the type of ways the author involves technology shows us that this novel offers a different type of reality than the one we are used to. A story about a computer hacker who loses his job for stealing from his employer, Neuromancer develops the ideas of augmented realities and alongside, coins the term “cyberspace.” This word in particular takes us back to how the brain and cybernetics combine forces to offer humans a false sense of reality. “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding….” (Gibson, pg. 38). These words that are mentioned in a “kid’s show” when Case and Molly are flipping through the channels show us what Gibson thought of the idea of this new term. This notion can bring us to question whether our own reality could possibly be cyberspace itself. Perhaps, we could be mere computation data, working together to create the reality we live in. Or perhaps our origins are deeply rooted in a software program being infinitely developed in the vast darkness of outer space.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
I will update this after finishing Neuromancer (over the fall break).
Neuromancer is the very first sci-fi I have ever read, honestly. So far, NOT so good, and here is why. According to my friend, this work started the generation of “cyberpunk“, which is “a subgenre of science fiction in a near-future setting”(Wikipedia). Naturally, Gibson invented his unique language such as “matrix” “crack an AI” and “jack into the cyberspace”, regardless what they actually mean. Also, Gibson is such a name-dropper that he incorperated lots of multi-cultural themes throughout the novel, things like, “a pack of Yeheyuan” (Gibson 108) which is a cigarette that no one smokes anymore, or the “Kandinsky table” or the “Neo-Aztec bookcases” (Gibson 108). I appreciate the effort of his research but he also made this novel so hard for me.
Meanwhile, under current artificial intelligence technology, the novel at the same time raised more questions than it could answer about the nature of cyberspace and human activities about it. In the novel, the cyberspace can be hacked in by one’s mental abilities, shown by Case’s brain damage also damaged his capability of hacking. In Neuromancer, Gibson indirectly showed us what one can do in the cyberspace by giving out very extreme examples such as merging Wintermute and Neuromancer. However, the cyberspace also in a sense resembles the DiVE “physically” because we were physically invited into the DiVE and it is perfectly possible that one lives in DiVE. Same with the Cyberspace: the Neuromancer invited Case to stay in the cyberspace with his dead girlfriend Linda Lee. For all we know, Case is a physical person (he was in Chiba, Japan) and were Neuromancer’s world completely mental, there would be no way for Case to actually “live” there. So the cyberspace becomes this intriguing place that seems to wander at the edge of the physical and the mental.
We also discussed the ethics surrounding artificial intelligence and the advancement of other technologies. Related topics have become the themes of lots of popular animes/mangas in Japan because Japan is extremely advanced in this field. This is also the reason why Gibson set the first scene of Neuromancer in Chiba prefecture in Japan. Related anime (that I’ve watched) include: Mirai Nikki, Steins;Gate, Ivu no Jikan (short, highly recommended). The first two concern time-travelling. The first one is also closely related to the game space concept that we talked about. The last one is related to the ethics of artificial intelligence and it made me emotional in the end.
“Cyberpunk.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 June 2014. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.
Although interacting with the DiVE was certainly an eye-opening and exciting new experience, as our class pointed out, it did have a number of shortcomings, including poor graphics, lack of stimulation of all five senses, and the fact that only one person was really interacting with the environment at a time. However, it did serve as a good starting point for a discussion on the limitless possibilities that virtual reality and technology in general can potentially have for us in the not so distant future. Neuromancer depicts a future that is so immersed in the digital and the virtual that it is at times hard to separate which parts are “real” and which parts are “merely virtual”. One fascinating example of how virtual reality is used in Neuromancer is known as the “simstim”, a piece of technology that is perhaps one of the best examples of the blending of the real and the virtual. It allows the user to experience a reality that is not merely “invented”, like that of the DiVE and other contemporary virtual reality systems, but is the reality behind the eyes of someone else. The first time this is used in Neuromancer is when Case uses the simstim to experience the world from Molly’s eyes as she goes to meet a man named Larry, a member of the Panther Moderns, in order to successfully infiltrate Sense/Net to get the ROM housing Dixie Flatline. The vividness of the simstim is made clear by Case’s first reaction to using it – “for a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger behind her eyes” (Gibson 56). The exciting thing about this brain-to-brain connection is that it doesn’t seem at all farfetched given what is going on today. In fact, we have made some inroads into brain-to-brain connections between animals already. According to our reading in Neurofutures, “the Nicolelis lab has experimented with transferring the brain state of an animal – in this case a hooded rat – to another rat through a direct brain-to-brain interface” (Lenoir 12). The example of the simstim is also interesting to apply to Hayles’ reading. According to Hayles, “embodiment then takes the form of extended cognition, in which human agency and thought are emeshed within larger networks that extend beyond the desktop computer into the environment” (Hayles 3). The simstim is a particularly good example of embodiment since through it, our cognition does not only extend out to our surrounding technological enviornment, but it can even extend to be inside the cognition of someone else! It turns out that applications of virtual reality in the future might even force us to give up the one place we feel we will always have privacy – inside our own minds.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. Print.
Lenoir, Tim. Neurofutures. Open Humanities Press. http://livingbooksaboutlife.org/pdfs/bookarchive/Neurofutures.pdf
The DiVE is a cube made of movie screens, and into which an entirely new experience can be projected. While I was in there, I felt as though that if we could get better graphics and more biointeraction with the scene that was being projected, it would be very easy to forget that what was being projected onto the screen was not real life, but instead a program that our senses and mind are bring tricked into believing. That being said, while reading Neuromancer, it made me wonder, “Is Armitage nothing but virtual reality taken one step further, into virtual mentality?” In Neuromancer, we are given a short blurb about Armitage’s past, as Corto. “Case watched Corto work corporate defectors in Lisbon and Marrakesh, where he seemed to grow obsessed with the idea of betrayal, to loathe the scientists and technicians he bought out for his employers…[he] had been taken to a Paris mental health unit and diagnosed as schizophrenic,” and then “[he was] provided with microcomputers and encouraged, with help from students, to program them. He was cured, the only success in the entire experiment (Gibson).” Basically Corto goes crazy after Screaming Fist, and as a cure he undergoes an experimental treatment that bestows a new personality upon him. The DiVE came so close to tricking us into believing that we were in a different place then we really were—is it possible that it could progress to the level where it tricked us into believing we were totally different people, and change all of our Cortos into Armitages? There is an entire episode of “Futurescape” that talks about the idea of preserving interactive personalities on computers, a similar concept to the ROM, and then being able to still maintain a relationship with a person long after they have passed away. So then, is it so unreasonable to think that we can reverse the process and take a personality from a computer and put it into a person? Of course, the original personality will still be there, and if the artificial one fails, like it did with Armitage, then what? Do we have a Jekyll and Hyde situation, where one personality tries to kill another and ends up damaging the person? Or is it a battle of man vs machine, where one wins and the other has to succumb?
If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t want to know the answers. Its scary to think of the implications of programmable personalities. For some reason, this reminds me of slavery—how hard would it be to just program a group of people to be submissive and obedient? And then, if they “want” to be in the position they’re put in, is it wrong to put them there? If we’re programmed, is our right and wrong just 0’s and 1’s?
All text references from the E-Copy of Neuromancer: http://www.voidspace.org.uk/cyberpunk/neuromancer.shtml