In today’s context and the world all of us twenty-somethings have grown up in, it is easy to undervalue exactly how revolutionary and predictive William Gibson’s Neuromancer was when it was contrived in 1984. With the hindsight afforded by the technology we know to exist today, Neuromancer seems accurate in many ways of the direction society has taken and what the future might still look like for us. However, what is remarkable is that none of the technologies or trends we base these assessments of Gibson’s work on today were even considered as possibilities in 1984. Additionally, many of the technologies Gibson postulates and themes he explores in the novel have influenced other media as well and will continue to do so. This not only serves as evidence of the aptness of his ideas but also that society at large is intrigued by these possibilities.
The novel imagines a society in which applied sciences have burgeoned with seemingly very little ethical consideration, in the tradition of futuristic technology-driven dystopian works. Humans are modified with both mechanical and biological enhancements. Many times these alterations are personal choices that lead to addictions with technology, mirroring the drug addictions common in the novel. However, the novel also includes many instances of technology being forced upon people with adverse consequences (see: Armitage). Whether by other humans or the technologies themselves (artificial intelligence), this theme of oppression or persecution by machines has taken off in media (Matrix, Terminator, etc.) resulting in paranoia and fear of advanced computers being embedded in our collective conscious. I think that throughout the semester we will continue to visit the idea of people being afraid of where our technology is headed.
What truly makes Neuromancer revolutionary though is Gibson’s conception of computer networks, cyberspace, AIs, etc. One element of this we explored in class on Wednesday is what defines humanity and where does the boundary fall between human and advanced machine. We debated if the character Dixie should be considered a human given that he is a copy of a real person, saved in cyberspace, who has since died. By nature of being a ROM, Dixie only has the memories recorded before his death, he cannot form new memories, and he essentially ‘restarts’ every time he is powered back up. My first reaction to this was that of course he is not human if he is incapable of growth and learning. However, this condition is no different from anterograde amnesia and of course I would consider individuals with that illness to be people. In truth, I am not sure where I would draw the line and that is what makes it such a scary question to consider.
EDIT: I found a song called Singularity by the band Bright Eyes. Lyrics to the song are in the youtube description. Here is an interview with the band discussing how Ray Kurzweil inspired some of their work: http://www.kurzweilai.net/inspired-music-bright-eyes-the-peoples-key