Lit 80, Fall 2013
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Neuromancer response

September 5th, 2013 | Posted by Sai Cheemalapati in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Neuromancer poses several pointing questions regarding the meaning of ‘humanity’, the effects of eugenics and genetic/physical augmentation on society, as well as the dangers of computing. At the end of it, the answers to those questions are still very ambiguous to me (as I suppose was intended). Certainly, I question what it means to ‘human.’ I’m personally inclined to ignore the biological definitions in favor of the thought based ones. By my definition, a human being is an entity that can make free willed decisions. Armitage is a curious case as a result – I don’t believe that he is human. He lacks free thought and in the end is Wintermute’s tool. As for the merits of eugenics and genetic modification, I imagine there are multiple paths to take. I personally think that genetic modification will in the long run benefit humanity. Being able to repair pieces of our bodies (or even replace them) is well within the rights of a person. The morally gray areas for me are clones, or bodies harvested to hold data. To raise a human for parts or as a clone seems inhuman to me. Depriving them of human freedoms makes it seem to me as though they are simply bodies with no minds. Clones unsettle me as well, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. I believe it’s because the existence of a clone removes the uniqueness of both the original and the copy. Clones are simply renamed as something like ‘3Jane’, to represent the 3rd iteration. Their identity is the exact same but they are different in body in mind.

As far as digital humanities goes, the novel certainly relates to our work. It poses many questions about the interactions and integration of technology in society and possible future implications. While it seems to show many of the negative sides in its dystopia setting, it was interesting as a computer scientist to read the negatives. It definitely made me think about the applications of computers and technology and ‘cyberspace’ differently. If I were to write a project on this novel, I would delve deeper into the concepts of AI and humanity. There’s a well known computer science concept called the Turing test. An AI that passes the Turing test is indistinguishable from a human, and there are several directions I could go to think about what that means.

What is Human?

September 5th, 2013 | Posted by Shane Stone in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

In Neuromancer readers encounter humans with modifications that pose the question “What is human?”  First off,  the genetic, mechanical, and biological modifications that people undergo do not make them any less human. You have to consider the context in which these modification are occurring. In this version of Earth, these modifications appear to be a common occurrence and although they seem strange to us, the modifications are a norm rather than taboo. In fact, I believe there is a parallel between the characters like Molly and Julius with modern people and their modifications. The Lizard Man and Cat Man have made many modifications to themselves to be something else. Even though our society sees this as taboo, we do not question their humanity. These modifications are similar to how Molly made changes to herself because she wanted to be something else, something more than a prostitute. These modification are a bit more extreme, but like I mentioned the context must be considered.  In comparison to Julius, you can look at anyone who has had a series of Botox Treatments and other plastic surgeries to maintain a more youthful appearance. Rather that plastic surgery, Julius has found a way to stay youthful without changing his looks. Actually, one could argue that he is more human than the people today who have all of these surgeries, but that’s just because a lot of times it can look unnatural. In my opinion, modifications can be made as long as they remain a biological being. I suggest this as my boundary for modifications because of an episode of “Teen Titans” when the character Cyborg almost loses the parts of him that “make him human.” He knows that although he is part machine that there are still parts of him that make him human, and he like all humans do not want to lose their humanity.

 

Neuromancer: Novel Response

September 5th, 2013 | Posted by Craig Bearison in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

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

We live in an age where technology that was once considered “futuristic” is now a reality. Computers have become extensions of our independent intelligence, allowing us to access the research of others, have questions answered, become educated, and perform a range of tasks within seconds. The division between mind and machine is also progressively shrinking. With the increasing usage of portable devices such as laptops, GPS systems, and particularly smartphones, we have access to outside sources of intelligence at nearly any place and any time. Dr. Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google, claims that we could be uploading our minds to computers in as little as thirty years. By doing so, we would be creating, as he calls it, “digital immortality”. We would essentially be extracting our minds, thus conserving all our knowledge and life experiences, allowing our “self” to live on past our biological life span. But would it really “live” on? Or is there more to “living” than just the information stored in our brains? Dr. Kurzweil also discusses creating “mindfiles” that would preserve our personalities as well, posing the question of whether it is possible to create an artificial human. And if so, where is the line between man and machine drawn?

In 1984, William Gibson contemplated the idea of splitting the mind and body through computers in his novel “Neuromancer”. He creates several characters that display human characteristics—such as having a sense of humor, laughing, problem solving, interacting with others, and even having desires—yet whose being is artificial, their intelligence contained within a ROM or computer algorithm. Dixie, for example, would be considered a friend of Cases, a being who he interacts with repeatedly, who relays sarcastic remarks–giving him a sense of personality–and who even has a dying wish. Yet, Dixie is not “human”. Though “he” had once lived, the information from his brain is separate from a body and exists in a ROM. This raises the question—what makes us truly human? Dixie and other characters such as Finn, Armitage, and Wintermute possess qualities that make them individualistic, that allow us to sympathize with them, and that give them depth. They are not just a voice spitting out data; they contain algorithms that allow them to theoretically “think”, to process interactions with humans and respond to them accordingly. Is this enough? Is it the brain, not the body, which makes us who we are? And if this were the case, where it is the information in our brain that makes us who we are, then would uploading that information to a computer—an artificial brain—subsequently maintain our humanistic traits? We become unsettled by the idea of living amongst machines in what could be the near future, but when it comes down to it—are we really that different?

Sources:

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1984. Print.

Woollaston, Victoria. “We’ll be uploading our entire MINDS to computers by 2045 and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years, Google expert claims.” Daily Mail. 19 Jun 2013: n. page. Web. 4 Sep. 2013. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2344398/Google-futurist-claims-uploading-entire-MINDS-computers-2045-bodies-replaced-machines-90-years.html>.

Neuromancer Novel Response

September 4th, 2013 | Posted by Sheel Patel in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Today, majority of the major operations that occur daily whether in the stock market, newsroom, hospital room, and even the classroom, are being aided or often run by technology and computers. Just as Donna Haraway predicted in her “Cyborg Manifesto,” technology has wedged itself into almost all daily activities in today’s society and has led to the formation of what I believe are two kinds of Cyborgs: people physically connected to machines and technology and those mentally attached to their devices.

The novel Neuromancer by William Gibson delves into this topic of “cyborgism” along with the harmony and often dissonance between man and machine. It poses many theoretical questions that are becoming more and more pertinent today, as the gap between human and machine grows smaller. It poses questions like: what defines something or someone is human? Or regarding how the body and mind is split, especially when technology is engrained directly into the body. One of the biggest questions that has arisen from this novel is whether a new being can be created, whether human, cyborg, or something else and the implications of this. In the novel, this can be seen everywhere and in everyone. A prime example can be seen with Molly, who through extensive surgeries has acquired prosthetics, fingernail implants, and mental switches that render her a ‘super-ninja’ assassin. Is Molly classified as a human? A cyborg? Another character, Julius, also has extensive surgeries done to him, which switch out his DNA and allow him to continue living way past the age of 150. The same can be seen, in a less obvious manner, with Case who through surgeries has obtained new drug resistant organs, along with the ability to zap into cyberspace and a virtual matrix.

All of these technological enhancements or changes to the human body is part of a societal stigma Gibson predicted, in which people would become ‘technologically addicted’ and continue to transform and alter their bodies with technology. Although it may seem crazy for someone to undergo some of the surgeries found in the novel, delving deeper into today’s society elucidates that Gibson may not have been to far off in his prediction. Today, mentally people have become more and more engrained with technology, with micro computers (smartphones) at their side at all times. It may not be a full out addiction, but there are noticeable mental effects that occur from being away from technology that can often be seen as symptomatic for an addiction. Gibson’s theory of completely altering the human body with technology also holds true today with the advent of 3-D printing, especially in the medical field. Today, and definitely in the next decade, scientists will be able to print out fully functional human organs and transplant them into people, just as Case had pancreas and liver transplants. With this advent, along with the computer mapping of the human brain, who is to say a new breed of human, cyborg, or new species can’t be created. The implications of this have very serious consequences on society in all aspects from politics to ethics. Maybe Gibson’s dystopian society wasn’t that far off after all.