Monday, May 7, 2007

Now the upside of technology

I had plenty of time to think this weekend, on my way back and forth to southern Missouri for a friends wedding. In the twenty-two hour round trip drive I though about the amazing things that we now have thanks to technology. Just being able to make that trip down and back in a three day span was in thinkable before that advent of the car and the interstate highway system. A friend that I rode with left his wife and little girl who wasn't feeling well at home and he was able to check in with them any where we were, amazingly we never lost cell signal the whole trip. And third I thought about the tornado that wiped out the Kansas town, with out the new early warning radars and forecasting systems many more lives would have been lost. I have to admit as much as I fight technology, preferring the sound of an LP to an mp3, even I have to admit that technological benefits outweigh the disadvantages, at least for the time being.

Technology invading our life

We have talked a lot about how our lives have been taken over by technology. I was thinking over the weekend about the new prevalence of webcams. For decades now we have been able to watch images of people and things on TV, but these have always been studio manipulated in some way. Now we have the popularity of the webcam, we still see the images but there is no longer any manipulation. I have a friend who lives on Lake Butte des Mortis and he has a camera that looks out over his deck and lake, and with this you can see day or night what is going over his portion of the lake. I don't know how I feel about this, it is nice that his family back home in Canada can see what is going on in his world, but what happened to calling and talking and telling the story of what is happening. I fear that we are turning into a world of voyeurs and losing our storytellers. Garrison Keillor where are you when the world needs a story.

Friday, May 4, 2007

“Come to the wired as soon as you can…”

Considering my ambivalence towards humanity, especially the primitive human body still bound by countless needs (sleep and nourishment) and urges (sex and violence) I am really intrigued by the idea of disembodiment or an a corporeal entity. The concept holds some interesting connotations in relation to the problem of travel across infinite space. Regardless of how fast a space vessel could move journeys to other star systems would still require several decades at least and most likely a few generations. Quite an inefficient means of moving from point A to point B, but if the human psyche could be translated into a set of data and transmitted as a wave to their destination; we are no longer bound by the body (space) or time. As a result, within Schild’s Ladder those who choose to travel embodied are typically the target of humor, since it would be akin to someone walking from Boston to San Francisco even though they are more than capable of buying an airline ticket.

Convenience within travel aside there are two sides to consider in relation to embodiment. In one sense it would be wonderful to no longer be bound by the restraints of humanity and have the power to create any image conceivable of oneself. This to me would allow perfect expression of individualism for one could choose their gender and small physical traits; however, such a scenario would possibly allow some of the dangers seen in Snow Crash brought forth into reality, namely some of the ridiculous avatars in the metaverse or an infinite amount of Clints and Brandys. Furthermore, the question of post humanity exists, in such a scenario are humans even human anymore or is it that humanity has transcended to “post humanity”? I have no attachment to my humanity and would be willing to see a giant tomato conversing with a talking reproductive organ in the street if it meant I could live as an a corporeal and choosing to become embodied allowed for the freedom of choice. Yet the connotations of change are still justifiability frightening for some.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Just some thoughts on the idea of transmitting oneself.

Assume for a second that it is really possible to transmit a person to another planet (person being defined as a qusp here). Is it therefore possible to either disrupt the transmission, or even intercept/kidnap that person? If the transmission is disrupted, does the person lose parts of their memory? Could the person conceivably die? And what about the potential of kidnapping a transmission? Not that there would be much value in doing so, as these transmissions take many (hundreds) of years to reach their destinations, but it is conceivable that someone could attempt to build their own slave force of captured people. I've been watching Street Fighter II V lately, and the antagonist group Shadaloo (pron. Shadow-law) implants chips into unwilling people's foreheads to assume complete control over them. Could that be done to captured people? Is it possible to make a qusp that allows someone to control the mind of the person occupying it?

Given the context of the story, these situations are unlikely to occur. There has been no major war for a long time. Life is generally peaceful. But these are things that would need to be considered should something like the qusp come into being. Also, what would being transmitted feel like? I don't think I could stand being in a complete null for hundreds of years. I think LIVING 100 years is long enough; this would probably drive me insane, because I couldn't do anything. If it was like being in a comatose state, then I would probably have no issue with it, as I would just wake up 500 or however many years later. If I had to retain consciousness for that entire trip...that would drive anyone insane.

Brave New World

For the analytical paper I chose to do Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. I know many of you have probably read this book before, but I would like to share a part of my paper that refelcts what it means to be human according to Huxley's novel.

First, to explain the book a bit, the "State" has decided to exert power over reproduction by engineering millions of human embryos via test tubes, etc. The Centre they are created in also conditions them as they grow upwith such means that are similar to continous brain-washing. Tarter Esch (one of my sources) puts it that these humans are "mangled from conception onwards...they've been pressed, shaped, molded, cut, bottled, and packaged at every state of their development (more like manufacure)." Even as adults they are being manipulated by the state, but at this point, their existence has already been determined for them both physically and almost mentally. Ultimately, the novel shows that these humans are created and controlled by the state, and are not even given a chance to live their own lives. (Their is A LOT more to it, but you'll just have to read to find out:)

My point in all this is...what is imporant to discuss when analyzing dehumanization, especially when considering this phenomenon of a cyborg culture, is what it means to be human. Tarter Esch believes "the notion of freedom is central to the notion of what it means to be human" and "if to be human is to be a free, independent, individual, rational and autonomous and creative being, then the humans of the Brave New World are clearly under attack, nearly defeated." Tarter Esch holds a strong point in relation to Huxley's novel because there are instances that discuss freedom and the human being. For example, one of the characters Bernard Marx wonders what it would be like "if I were free-not enslaved by my conditioning" (Huxley 91).

And it's not only the conditioning that takes away these created human beings' freedom,' it's the technologically manufactured products, such as soma, that puts civilization in unthinking and uncaring states. In perspective, John, the only character in the novel that the reader sees as "naturally" birthed and completely against this form of society, tries to dispose of the drug and "free" the people who are slaves to it. However, the world Huxley has presented is, as another of my sources James Schellenberg describes, a society with "a state of mind...that puts happiness into a materialistic paradigm, and them uses it as a method of control, justifed as what people want." John in the novel opposes this notion and thinks as human, it is wrong to get "rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it" and that everyone has "the right to be happy" (Huxley 238-240).

These are just some of the ideas from my paper that discuss how this particular author sort of represents his idea on what it means to be human. (Like I said before, there's a lot more to it!) Freedom, moreover, was an aspect Professor Ganyard said many of our papers brought up on the issue of what it means to be human, and my paper was one of them so here I presented a bit more on that idea.


So I finished Snow Crash a while ago but I am a bit confused on what was up with Raven, especially at end. In chapter 20 we find out that the Enforcer, and everyone else who knows about him, is trying to protect Raven. Apparently, he's "packing a torpedo warhead that he boosted from an old Soviet nuke sub...a nuclear torpedo." Squeaky goes on to tell the clueless Hiro that "the trigger's hooked up to EEG trodes embeded in [Raven's] skull. If Raven dies, the bomb goes off."

I thought this was an interesting little twist to the story, and I pondered how they were going to defeat the dangerous and destructive murderer...because you know this is a bool were the good guys prevail at the end. However, I noted the part where Hiro defeated him in the Metaverse and killed Raven there, saving all the hackers (another great part in the novel). But, in chapter 70, Raven in the real world is having a battle with good old Uncle Enzo. seems Enzo defeats Raven with the skateboard's "RadiKS Narrow Cone Tuned Shock Wave Projector" and Raven is standing "stunned, empty-handed, a thousand tiny splinters of broken glass raining down out of his jacket." I'm just curious as to what's going on here...did Raven just get "stunned," or did the glass shards injure him, ir did Enzo actually kill him. As I look over it again it would make sense he is just stunned, but what happens if and when he does die in relation to the bomb that's connected to his life? This was just something I found myself wondering about, especially the events at the end of the book involving Raven (and how about his little ordeal with Y.T.?...what the heck was that?)!

Snow Crash

I actually enjoyed this novel, mostly because Neal Stephenson presented such vivid characters with actual depth. The reader is able to figure out the characters for the most part without being told. You can see their development and growth as characters. I love it when authors do this, but I have found a trend that many science-fiction authors focus more on what is happening in the world because of technology, rather than the characters. As a result, the characters are one dimensional, at best, perhaps two dimensional. Stephenson however gives his characters so much time in the novel that they are able to become three dimensional.
I found Stephenson outlook on the future very bleak, especially the "Sacrifice Zone". It is sad when the world because so caught up in money that parks, even national ones (or state was it?), are not worth the price of fixing up or restoring to their previous condition. However, considering that the U.S. at this time has become city-states controlled by corporations and criminals, it is realistic to assume this would happen.
The metaverse in this novel seems to be like the matrix universe in that film. Although I have never seen Matrix, I know that it is a movie about a virtual reality world controlled by robots. Here, the difference seems to be that people know about the virtual world and can control it themselves to a certain extent. Overall, I found the humor sprinkled through out this novel to come at a time when things were at its worst, indicating that the author may have been worried about the future, but was also hopeful about it as well.

Mumbo Jumbo

I definitely have to stick with Josh on this one...I really didn't get the book (Schild's Ladder), and didn't enjoy it enough to put the effort into digging deeper into it. There really seemed to be no real story or plot line, or maybe there was, but Egan used so much scientific jargon that it was buried in a mess of robotic sounding mumbo-jumbo. In most of the other selections in class, the authors made it possible for a layman, like me, to skip over some of the more scientific terms and still have a feel for what was happening; Egan did not.

Also, the other books in this class, in one way or another, have all drawn out some kind of emotional response, or made me feel sympathy or compassion for the characters. In attempting to fathom how the themes depicted in the books might play out in our world today, I began to actually get quite involved in some of them. Being someone that really deliberately tries to stay away from science fiction, this was really saying a lot for me. I did not have any sense of this after reading Schild's Ladder, however, and it was kind of a let down to finish the class with a sour taste in my mouth. The characters seemed cold, disconnected, even emotionless at times. While I realize that this is a science fiction novel about future computer technologies and quantum physics, etc, etc, I was still hoping for some sense that these charaters had some humanity buried in them. That must have been lost under the heaping pile of mumbo-jumbo as well.

In conclusion, I wish the "Mimosa Station" had referred to some sort sort of Sci-Fi bar or club, because that's what I really needed when I finished this book...a drink!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The human computer

Ok, we all know how I feel about being able to extend life. Other than the fact that it would be completely boring to live that long...well, that's the only real drawback I guess.

The idea of this qusp seems like they turned the human (such as it is in the book) body into something of a computer, akin more to an Apple 2e than what we use now. My understanding is that these bodies can not function without a qusp, and the "user" can determine what kind of body he/she/it wants, much as a computer shopper can determine what kind of hardware is necessary to serve his or her purposes.

Ghost in the Shell anyone?

Bodies seem to be nothing more than computers that can run a program that acts as an intelligent being. Take the qusp out (or transmit yourself) and the body ceases functioning. Done with that planet? Recycle the body so another can be made. Nothing more than a useless box.

Here's a better question, and I may have missed it in the reading; What if the qusp was destroyed while it was occupied. What happens to that person? Sure, a local death may cause the loss of a few hours of "life", but what happens when the main essence of the person is destroyed? Could viruses affect it? What about EMP (assuming there is a way to create such a thing)? I would be more concerned about these things than living forever.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Emotionless Lectures

This is probably one of the rare posts that will not deal with the theological issues I presented in my previous posts (most notably, those in response to our novels), so this should provide an alternative for those of you who are tired of my oppositional "religious" (actually, Christian) views. Consider this the original post about "Schild's Ladder, the scientific perspective." (In other words, the "preaching-free" version)

Throughout the book, I noticed similarities between this book and Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? True, the plots are no where near similar, but there are several themes that are similar. The most notable one is the use of memory as a form of identity (both seem to share this view, as others have mentioned), but I found another similarity that does not relate to the themes (specifically). I couldn't help but be reminded of the empathy box--that machine in Androids that can alter emotions--in scenes where the characters would ask there mediators to control their emotions. Both stories seem to have a machine to adjust the emotions of the characters, which actually does open it up to this theme of empathy that was present in Dick's novel. It is true that the book never comments on the question of humanity, but did losing their body, and losing the emotions that coincide with the flesh, did they lose a part of themselves? Did they lose a portion of their identity? It is a question I will pose but will not answer. Besides, I promised I would stay away from theology in this post.

On a separate note, I was frustrated by how much of this book seemed like scientific lectures! I always found it annoying in Michael Crichton's books when he would digress into random, and sometimes forced, insertion of scientific information, but this book makes Crichton seem like a actual story, rather than a long research paper! There were so many lectures included in Egan's writings, and a lot of it was difficult to understand. I didn't really know, or care, what was going on in this story!

So, you can derive from this that the unusual number of posts on my part has nothing to do with an actual enjoyment of the book. It is not hard to figure out the real reason why . . .

Me, Myself and I

Who am I? Who are you? What makes us the individuals that we claim to be? Who and/or what is it that perdures through time that gives us this continuity we call "the self"?

A big part, if not the exclusive part, in Schild's Ladder of who we are is that of memories. There are the constant references to the loss of some short-term memories experienced when local death occurs to the individual and they have not backed up their recent experiences, some times just a couple of hours sometimes close to a day or so. But I think that memories may be given to much emphasis in this quest for identity.

It seems to me that there must be a "something else" that which the memories accrue to, that which maintains them, and that which perdures throughout. If who we are or who we become is the sum of our memories then every moment I am a different person. While it may be the case that I am a changing person for at each moment I gain a new experience and thus a new memory and perhaps forget some trivial memory, I do change. But there is an "I" that remains constant an "I" that binds together past, present and future. this "I" is not only and necessarily memories. It seems it must be something more.

Take the case of amnesia, permanent or other wise, I still am though I have lost all memories. Perhaps I no longer remember that I am was a welder, but I am. Perhaps I no longer remember that I used to be able to play chess but I am. Memories are perhaps a important part of how we define our self in a functional way, but I argue that they are not sufficient for defining who we are in an essential way. Before I learned to weld I was, before I learned to play chess I was and after I forget how to weld or play chess I will still be.

Perhaps the I that perdures is some ineffable thing, perhaps it is the ultimate subject that can never become object to itself. But what ever else it may be its essential nature is not tied to memories.

In Schild's Ladder Mr. Egan either ignores this or does not wish to deal with it, or perhaps also he is a pure materialist so who we are is nothing but the brain. But then that too would not make us our memories it would make us our brain whatever its state is.

Simply put I argue that we are more than the sum or lack of our memories. Memories add to us and there loss perhaps dimishes us but memories neither create nor destroy who we are, that "I" remains and is the constant to which memories come and go.

Monday, April 30, 2007

"Blinded me with science.."

*cue bad 80's music* "IT'S SCIENCE!!"
I don't have much of a scientific background, but I was able to grasp a bit of it enough it make sense. I still really enjoyed this story and kept drawing parallels between other works I've read/seen such as BLAME!, GITS series, and quotes from a character named Himiko, from a book title that escapes me, but I own. But mostly BLAME!, which I may or may not post about at a slightly later time. Anyways, her quotes were about decisions and myriad of ultimate universes that come form those choices one makes in their life times. It was exactly along the lines of what we discussed in class. I often ponder at the possibilities of my own choices in life, and what may have been. Or possibly was would an alternate universe be like somewhere in the expanse of the stratosphere of dimensions and universes in space. No, no I don't toke up while doing this either, just out of boredom or daydreams. This brings me to another subject: reality.

acorporeal people in VR or fleshed out in our reality of the material, or Cass's swimming in real water; reality is real for those living in it. Just because VR is virtual, it is still a reality? Another form of it different from our own but no less real. Yet even the material people in this book are living half way between the two realities because of how much technology, their inter connectivity with it, and the use of the Qusp like a "save point" (lol tap the save point, find the moogle) are allowing this to happen. What is reality then what we perceive as real. Can't reality involve another state of being and or perceptions ?

(NO, no matrix quotes, I hate that movie, they totally ripped off anime/manga. It was fine the first time I saw it but no no more.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Body - Trash Or Treasure?

"A lifetime's worth of defensive slogans about the perils of VR started clamoring in her head. She wanted to scrape this whole illusion off her face, like a poisonous, blinding cobweb; she wanted to see and touch reality again. To have real skin, to breathe real air, would change anything. If she could only see the world through her own eyes, and react with the instincts of her own body, she knew she could flee from danger.

It was so perverse it was almost funny. She was perceiving the danger a billion times more clearly than she could ever have hoped to if she'd been embodied. She had all her reflexes at her disposal, and all her powers of reasoning, operating a billion times faster than usual.

It was just a shame that all of these advantages counted for nothing." (Schild's Ladder Egan 39)

What if you could live forever? What if your life, your consciousness, could constantly be transferred to other bodies (or even survive on its own)? What if your senses were enhanced beyond what you are able to with the body with which you were born? Would this satisfy you?

It is a question that might seem to be an easy answer: of course it would. But would it really? The above quote brought perspective that I openly accepted and incited me to post in reply. There is something unique about the human body that discarding it thoughtlessly might not appreciate. True, the idea of our senses being enhanced may seem appealing, but it ignores the intricate system of nerves and the brain that can be found in the human body. I have written about the complexity of the human brain and my doubt of it ever being duplicated, but there is a a desirable uniqueness in the human body. For me, even this cannot be duplicated completely, and the sensations are hard to imitate.

Again, as I have previously stated, there is a conflict for those who might not believe in evolution and rather believe in intelligent design. The idea of just trashing the body is a reminder of how insignificant evolution considers the design of man. There would be more of an importance to those who believe in a design, especially by a loving Creator. For these, the body is a treasure, not just some accident. It is not just something you throw away. So when I read this quote, it provoked my thought to this perspective and reminded me of the importance of the human body. There is still something special that Cass seems to recognize.

On a side note, as I already stated in regards to science fiction in general, this idea of immortality is still depressing. It is just some software program being transferred from system to system. There is nothing truly cherished in this presentation of the humans in the future. Again, for Christians, the hope of immortality is not just a machine; it is rejoicing in a perfect heaven for eternity. I definitely would prefer this, and the human body, over what the book describes.

After all, does she not say that the immortality in the book all amounts to nothing?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Circular time

While driving home after class yesterday I could not help but to think about Shild's Ladder I'm kind of a physics junkie so I enjoyed some of these concepts. The one thought that kept coming to me was the Eastern and Native American belief in time being circular rather than linear. So follow me on this. Is it possible that the creation of the Nova Vacuum actually sparked a Big Bang and beyond the boarder is our expanding universe as we know it. This would leave the beings in Shild's Ladder as ethereal beings not within our ability to understand (angels ghosts gods, what ever your personal belief maybe). This would me that time beyond the boarder would continue and eventually reach the point where the Nova Vacuum is created sparking the Big Bang and so on. It may be a little out there but it's just a thought.

Second Life University

We're off of this topic right now, but this morning I found an interesting article on msn...

With the upswing of online universities, this almost (key word: almost) seems like a good idea. You can "sit" in a class with other people from around the world, and interact with them within the Second Life world.

The class knows about this, but for those who are reading this and unaware, Second Life is a virtual world (a la The Sims but more real) where people can make a persona and live a life as that person in the virtual world. I do not use this particular program, so I know relatively little about it as far as functionality goes.

While this may seem like a good idea, it may cause just as many problems. First, any member of an educational class could easily lie about anything about them. Not that that is anything new, but some people may have a problem not being able to see the actual person. Also, what about tests (not that I've encountered this problem in the online classes I took at UW-GB); it would be simple to make notes and have every possible resource available to take these tests, or be able to control that anyways. In my case, it was stated that they could be used (like no one would take advantage of that anyways.)

The article does mention that Second Life is its own culture, and I would agree with it, but this culture can only exist as long as it is plugged in. Also, there is no real room for advancement in real life (as far as I know). Anything you have or do is limited to what is on the server, or your computer, or whatever they use for it. So you own a house on what? That doesn't help you here.

Used as a classroom setting, however, Second Life could have some great uses. Even if it isn't real life, you can still get some pretty diverse opinions, as there would be more people from different locales around the world.

One more problem with this is that it doesn't replace real life interaction with people, but can help create problems that can't be done safely in real life; natural disasters, nuclear explosions, or Michael Jackson dying and coming back as a zombie. This would allow people in these fields, such as health care, to attempt to take care of the problem in their own ways. Now, the program would probably be set up that the student/player would always "win", as attack dogs are always allowed to win in training, assuming that they perform the correct actions. Real life doesn't work that way, and may lead to false confidence in people. Also, things such as surgery probably can't be done this way.

So in a classroom setting, this could be great. In practical settings it can be hit or miss, depending on what that setting is.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Out of Body Experiences

I was extremely confused when I first dove into Schild's Ladder. I know we were warned about the writing style beforehand, but I was still a little confused.

By the sounds of things, consciousness can travel between different forms in this novel. A living entity can start out in a physical human body, and transfer itself (memories, active thoughts, etc.) into another form, whether it be a mechanical body or a plethora of nano-sized clones. There is no limit to the boundaries which can be crossed, or so it seems.

Having just dove into the book, these thoughts raise a few questions. First of all, how is it possible?! It seems as if they just will themselves into other forms, which by present standards would be one miraculous feat of mind power. I think it would be rather difficult to force my consciousness into another physical form, whether I have some sort of technological aid in doing so or not. Why would I want to change my form, anyway? I can see some implications of immortality... if you were to transfer yourself into a fresh cybernetic body every time your old one got damaged/defective, you could potentially live for an eternity. The whole "transference of consciousness" reminds me of the ghosts in Ghost in the Shell.

Next question... how long did it take to develop such a technique? Is this something that has been researched for generations before it was perfected, or was it a gift from another species from around the vast universe? I know we're pretty handy with technology and continuing to advance, but there comes a point when fiction and reality cross and fight with each other. Personally, I don't think this is something we'll be able to craft up anytime soon, if at all.

The time limits for some of these forms seems incredibly short. Picoseconds? That's not a lot of time, folks. Not a lot of time at all. Yet they make it seem like it's an eternity in Schild's Ladder. This confuses me.

I'm sure I'll get some answers as I continue reading, but I thought I'd throw some of that out for other people to think about.

Snowcrash enclaves

I had to laugh a little at the idea of enclaves in Snowcrash. While reading this book I had a job interview with the Kohler Corp in the town of, you guessed it, Kohler. The idea of cooperate enclaves is not new in fact they have existed in a small scale since the 19th century in the form of the company town. Lumber towns and mining towns covered northern Wisconsin and the UP and these towns were the world to the employees. And these towns still exist today such as Kohler, but if we look further at the aspect of control not just ownership we can see where these enclaves may spring from. Just take Redmond WA, Microsoft may not own the town, but can exert a large amount of control over the area. Is it inconceivable that in the future this power could not grow into an enclave of sorts?


Well I am finally back online so here goes trying to get caught up. What struck me most about Galatea 2.2 was with in the first several pages. The beginning of the book describes the technological bubble of isolation that seemed to exist between the university and the outside world, and this section really threw me back in time. In 1994 about the same time the book was written I was just starting school at Michigan Tech, and this same sort of bubble existed. This was when the internet boom was just starting to explode and most people I knew outside of a university setting were not online. I seemed like the entire world of information was at my finger tips, and just like powers I would become lost in the web and find myself alone in the computer lab until the wee hours gorging my brain on information. And even then I noticed the irony of hand writing letters to people trying to describe this awesome technology.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Depressing Future

I offer this only as a brief comment and not a lengthy analysis like many of the posts I included throughout this semester. In discussing the essay (Lyotard, “Can Thought Go On Without a Body?”) that we read for Thursday, I was reminded why I have problems with the science fiction genre and its portrayal of the future. For a Christian, it is hard to rectify the differences of many stories in the genre with the vision of the future described in Revelations. Those who have read the book of Revelations are aware that it is a dark look at the end times, but, for me, it is more hopeful than the vision presented in some science fiction novels. That essay was hard to read and even harder to hear, because its content was truly depressing for me. To me, I would rather have hope of an eternal life than be planning some machine to store the thoughts of the destroyed human race. The thought of such a meaningless life is difficult to accept and this might be the reason why I have problems with some of the futures that science fiction stories depict. Even considering that the Bible describes incredible pain and torment in the last days, at least it provides a way out for believers. I know that many people prefer to not believe the Bible's version of the future but, for me, the depressing descriptions such as this essay only help affirm to me why I believe what I believe. I would much rather have hope in one faith (Christianity) than emptiness in another (and, yes, Evolution theory does not have enough proof to be considered anything more than a faith, which means it too requires a belief). Often, religion can conflict with science fiction, which might explain why I had problems with most of what we read in class and was offering opposition. Still, really, how interesting would a discussion be if it only provided one side?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Diversity of Humanity

To be a copy of a copy of a copy, what a boring existence, pointless even, it’s diversity which makes things interesting after all. Just when you thought you had everything all figured out you realize that half way around the world your counterpart is doing things very very differently. Yet, people are afraid of change, that’s why even when Mr. X has traveled from his home in Virgina to spend a week in Tokyo he stalks down the streets for the trusty McDonalds (oh how funny that McDonalds that McDonalds has become part of our vocabulary and Microsoft word recognizes it as such). Never mind diversity “he can order without having to look at the menu, and the food will taste the same. McDonald’s is home, condensed into a three-ring binder and Xeroxed” (Stephenson 191). The world is becoming smaller because of leaps and bounds in technology, but it would be asking too much for us to use this opportunity to learn more about the human experience, it’s far easier to melt humanity down and reform it all into one uniform shape, that in essence would be snow crash, the means to melt humanity down. There is a bit of a problem with this scenario however, and just maybe babel wasn’t a bad thing but rather a survival mechanism for humanity. If everyone and everything is the same not only do we become machines and enter the brain drain of all the suburbia kids shooting up steroids and entering the metaverse as Brandy and Clint, but take simple survival, if everything is the same, simple laws of science dictate that the entire population can be easily wiped out by a single blow. One plague comes along and humanity is thus wiped from the face of the Earth, but if humanity were to be scattered across the earth to grow and develop along different continuums, humanity has a better chance of prospering. Perhaps, people simply needed a reason for explaining such differences and god is of course the easiest scapegoat.

Creating a Rat Thing

I was intrigued by the implications that the Rat Thing created. A machine with biological components? In a way it is a feat of genius. In another way, it's a cruel, damaging proposition.

Creating a machine with biological components brings up a few unanswered questions as to its origin and function. First of all, where do these organs come from? It's apparent that the Rat Things have organic components derived from canines of sorts. Have these organs been ripped out of living animals to empower these new mechanical creations? If so, that certainly says something about the ethics and animal rights of the time. Taking organs from a recently deceased older dog probably wouldn't work because the organs would have been already "worn out" in a sense. If the organs didn't come from a living animal, where else could they have come from?

Perhaps it is possible that they could clone organs for the Rat Things. Better yet, what if they could simply grow organs? It'd be efficient, controlled, and there would always be spare components on hand for when pre-existing rat things take injuries/damage. This still doesn't answer the issues of ethics though, which we argue about even today. If this still isn't the case, then where do these organs magically appear from?!

The next issue is getting the biological components to function with the technological ones. This is an entirely new ballgame. You can't just put a heart in a machine and expect it to beat. There has to be some sort of method of combining the mechanics of the Rat Thing with the organs it has been set up to function with. What method this is, I don't know at this point...

I suppose the Rat Thing could be considered an actual possible creation of the future, but the ethics behind its design would slow down its creation.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Language of Life

Even though there was a lot of action and side issues in this novel, especially religion, as noted by Josh, the main theme that continues to pick up speed throughout the novel is that of language. Software and hardware, programs and programmers, viruses and counter-viruses.

If intelligence and freedom (the nam-shub of Enki) is simply one programed language, and slavery (babel/meta-virus/me's) is just another type of programed language I do not see that it matters much. That being, in this reading as well as in all our readings, we are getting a heavy dose of materialism and different versions of the strong AI thesis. the example in this story is tantamount to saying that one computer is alive or intelligent because it has different, i.e. better programming than the other. So if my calculator is programmed with the nam-shub of Enki and your calculator only has the "B-metavirus" then my calculator is intelligent and yours is not. Hmmm...

Of course Stevenson does not differentiate the medium or rather the physical instantiation that may or may not be necessary, i.e. a biological brain, but I do not know that it matters for him.

I was looking on the web today at DNA, and most sites have it described as the instructions, or genetic code for life in general or the specific individual. It is the "language of life" it seems. What is language? And just how important is it not only to life but for life? Stevenson seems to be saying that all life is nothing but an appropriate software program running on sufficiently complicated and fast enough computer, i.e. hardware (like the brain). The sum is not only greater than the parts it is almost entirely different. This is and has been bothering me as we delve into what is life and what is intelligence this semester. And if most of these writers and thinkers are correct humanity is "nothing" but a complicated machine.

But I do not believe that "life" can come from non-life. That is, it takes like to create like, not unlike. I do not see how taking a bunch of inanimate, i.e. lifeless objects (what ever kind you like) and putting them together will give you life. This is the very problem that materialists since the time of Lucretius have had to deal with. If "atoms" for example are the basic building blocks of life and they are simply the smallest inanimate chunks of matter, then how can putting them together in any arrangement make them other than inanimate?

Perhaps it really is possible to "create" or program intelligence, but if it is then I may argue that you can have intelligence with out having life. Since we can have life with out intelligence, is it the case that it is possible that it goes the other way too?

Program all you want, but my calculator will always be just a calculator.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Future Of The Church (A Response To Religion in Snow Crash)

It should be no secret that I am a Christian--much of the discussion I contributed in class were rooted in this belief--but you might not be aware of the fact that I am not opposed to the criticism towards the church. People often assume that all Christians act the same and that extreme activities and statements made by those who profess to be a follower of Christ is an indictment of the entire faith, but these are merely examples of people who do not follow the example of Christ. I have found myself frustrated with the behavior that has alienated many from Christianity and am not afraid to address these issues if given the chance (For the record, true Christians are expected to show love towards others, not stage violent protests). Therefore, when I read the portrayal of the future "church" as presented by Neil Stephenson in Snow Crash, I wasn't offended. Instead, what I experienced was fear, cause I know that this could happen--and is beginning to happen--in today's church.

The vision of the church presented in this novel is one of business. The description that most affected me is found 193-196. I read with a certain amount of trepidation that was a combination of disgust (from what was being portrayed) and dread (knowing that this could become a reality). Still, the description that hit me hardest was the chapel itself: "The interior of the chapel is weirdly colored, illuminated partly by florescent fixtures wedged into the ceiling and partly by florescent fixtures wedged into the ceiling and partly by large colored boxes that simulate stained-glass windows. The largest of these, shaped like a flattened Gothic arch, is bolted to the back wall, above the altar, and features a blazing trinity: Jesus, Elvis, and the Reverend Wayne. Jesus gets top billing. The worshipper is not half a dozen steps into the place before she thuds down on her knees in the middle of the aisle and begins to speak in tongues" (195-196). This is what follows a waiting process that includes donations to enter the church. Knowing that I do not have a problem with church in general, and am only criticizing certain commercially motivated churches, I did find this portrayal to be incredibly poignant. Many churches are recognized by the design of the building, and bookstores and cafeterias are becoming common. The main offense I take to this is the portrayal of the speaking of tongues, which is important in my faith as it relates to the Holy Spirit. Still, the book makes the speaking of tongues I primary issue, and the emphasis on tongues within the church (an issue I myself am sensitive to and have been concerned about) in the pentecostal tradition leads to many people feeling obligated and sometimes people might try just from pressure (instead of letting it come "naturally") Speaking in tongues can sometimes be forced in some churches (though some have the spiritual gift, see Romans 12) However, the book seems to use this phrase throughout it rather flippantly.

It also impresses me how this book includes Biblical references in its discussion. most specifically, with the Tower of Babel. There is even a section where the Bible verses are mentioned by chapter and verse (Chapter 30) Still, the books make many statements about religion (when asked whether Snow Crash is a virus, drug, and religion, the response is simply "What's the difference?" 200) But what would obviously be the most offensive for me is the statement regarding the resurrection. For someone to say that you can't be a Christian with the belief in Resurrection is entirely oppositional to the center of Christianity. It is even more offensive for her to say that the "myth" of the Resurrection is "National Enquirer-esque" (201) Though, obviously, this book is not a Christian book.

However, in spite of its objectionable statements, the book does include an interesting one. One of the statements made on page 69 declares that "Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later . . . which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds." (69, my emphasis) While I do not entirely agree with this, I do fear that the church is becoming to superficial and that meaningful content is sometimes glossed over, which is ironic since that which is intended to draw people to the church is also turning away the intellectual. For every Sigmund Freud and his Civilization and Its Discontents, there is C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity. Religion is not for idiots; some churches just dumb it down (though I refuse to neglect the many churches who do explore deeper, theological issues). However, if churches began to take the form of those represented in this church, including Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates. However, 99% is an unfair number in modern age.

Why am I writing about Christianity in a class about cyborgs. The answer is simple: I write responses to books based on what most resonates with me. In this book, it was the religious aspect that fascinated me. And as everyone know, Christianity is important in every response I gave to the concepts in this class. How could I neglect the opportunity to respond to a book that deals with religion so prevalently?

Semi-Autonomous Guard Units

In chapter twelve we meet Ng Securtiy Semi-Autonomous Guard Unit #A-367. Though I'm not finished with the novel, I've seen a few instances involving these "Rat Things." I like how there are whole little sections devoted to their thoughts. But isn't this interesting. At first I wondered how this could be because they seemed to be built machines for the purpose of security. Then as Y.T. tries to save one from having a melt down, she realizes it bleeds and has "biological components," as Hiro informed her. So these Rat Things are cybernetic animals that can feel and comprehend (at an animal level), but are technologically advanced to perform "inanimal," like inhuman, feats.
Then we meet Ng, to tell us all about the Rat Things, around chapter twenty nine. But he's a weird specimen as well. He has an entire body device, with connection to that crazy van, that he simply calls an "extension of my body." But if you read the know how elaborate of an "extension" this is! But isn't this how we discussed what a cyborg is, having a technological extension of the human (or animal I guess) body? What seems important, that makes humans and animals most special, are their brains and it's ability to control the surrounding technology it is engulfed in. Also interesting to note is when Ng reveals the Rat Things are of "dog parts," he tells the disturbed Y.T. that "your mistake is that you think that all mechanically assisted organisms-like me-are pathetic cripples. In fact, we are better than we were before." The whole concept that Ng brings up with the Rat Things and himself seem important to look at when we discuss cyborgs and what it means to be human (again, or animal...can't leave them out:).
And wasn't the story with Fido (or Number B-782) and the following section describing how he remembers Y.T., or the "nice girl," great? I especially like when B-782 thinks "in order to protect the nice girl, they are hurting some of the bad men...which is as it should be." All in all, what can these sections of the novel involving the Rat Things and their thoughts tell us? I'm still thinking about it, and I just really liked how Stephenson incorporated these creatures in the story...whatever they may be.


We talked about this in class, how there seemed to be these things in the Metaverse called 'demons' that seemed to be functioning as some kind of a system tool. The specific example I'm looking at is where Hiro gives one of the underground demons the Snow Crash virus 'scroll', and tells it to deliver the scroll to his office, but not to open it. Looking into real life computer applications, particularly those relating to e-mail, there are programs or utilities that are referred to as 'mail daemons'. These daemons are used as a kind of status messenger for various e-mails, and, at the time that Snow Crash was written, were a far more common utility in e-mail programming. There were even some (admittedly simple) computer games that utilized the mailer daemon. Nethack (similar to Moira, Rogue, or Angband) comes to mind; even though it was a game that was played off-line, if you knew how to sync your e-mail address with the game, and were online at the time, a character called (literally) the 'Mailer Daemon' would rush up to you and deliver you the message, after acceptance, of course. They still do exist today, but are not referred to as daemons, probably because someone complained that they didn't want to have to deal with something that was named as a d(a)emon. It mainly came around when something went wrong with your e-mail, which could be the reason behind the naming.

I'll note that the only time I've ever encountered the mailer daemon was when I would input a bad address. Other than that I never saw it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stratified Net

Although Stephenson paints a very commercialized, corporate future, where everything is priviately owned; what seems to remain the same is the make up of class structure...even in the net. When Hiro visits the "Metaverse", he describes the "Brandy", "Clint" (p.37) and "black-and-white" (p.41) avatars he see on the "Street". It seems that only those with really sophisticated technology (Like Hiro) can create a truly unique, detailed "avatar". The mid-techies, ("Brandy" and "Clint") if you will, purchase their image from Wal-Mart, and the low-techies use some 'xerox machine' ( p.41) ("black-and-white")version of themselves. So, apparently while you can change your image to be anything you want on the net, people are still locked into an image they can afford. Even how you get to the street, having a "House" (p.36) or arriving at a public "port" (p.37), classifies the net user.

Is this what makes us human? Our ability to classify, objectify,and see ourselves as better than the other; in reality and in cyber-space?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I'm hungry for Pizza and infopr0n oops..I mean infomercials

I Love this book. As a big fan of cyberpunk, this book is such a fun read with really likable characters. I mean, even though Hiro is a 1337 /-/4X0r (if you can read that, god you are nerdy! And I shouldn’t' laugh, because I'm the one that wrote it… -.-;…. ) type guy, there are moments where he is just dense or not all there. Or Y.T.'s double life as a punk ass teen queen and a role of a "good daughter," Each character has a personality and is just fun. But when they say "hacker" I keep thinking they mean "programmer" or "developer" because it sounds so over used or misused. I don't know.
Bob R. Rife's empire of media (and now church) reminds me a lot of Aol/Time Warner cable and how they own everything! I remember back in my old mass communication classes, discussing things about corporate conglomerations. When a company owns most facets of a particular service or product (monopoly), it drowns out competition and competitive, fair, prices. Also the quality of that product or service can go down, because there is nothing else and so consumers end up with it (I'm looking at YOU shitty Windows, oh yes I am). But more importantly related with this book, is the control of information. In a monopoly in the media, Information is controlled. The story is not always all there, especially if it is from the company or its affiliates making that news, or has an interest whether monetary or otherwise. People will get what is given to them and have few alternatives. Now with the internet that isn't so true, yet if Google can filter shit out for communist China, who is to say that AOL isn't doing the same. That's why I could totally see these conglomerate figure heads make their own news as to make more profit from the industry that they practically own most of, much like ol' Bob Rife.
Also, organized society in the burbclaves of their own nation-state franchises that connect like minded or similar people into a community that self governs. They share many things in common from culture, to interests, to status, etc. This is so similar to current trend on the internet, like Myspace, Livejournal, forums, and web rings. Essentially these things do the same function as these gated communities of burbclaves. Networking and residing on the internet as these people do in the real life (and sometimes the metaverse, as they are freer to be who they wish they were).
Some other similarities I found were the tower of Babel and the CIC library of congress thing, where knowledge, language, and culture tidbits are all protected by the god/librarian hackers. And the whole concept of neural hacking, and the god counter virus, as our brains function and are wired similar to computers, and the closer and more frequent we interact with computers, the more our minds are like them; there fore, the more susceptible to this virus and counter virus we become.
I also love Juanitia's take on faith. Just had to say. ^_^

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"30 minutes or less"

Snow Crash begins with a dialogue about "life or death" pizza delivery. It seems reminiscent of the old marketing campaigns of Dominoe's vs. Pizza Hut (pizza wars) of that time (the early nineties) that this book had been published. I remember that they would guarantee your pizza in 30 minutes or less, or it would be free. However, many delivery drivers had accidents and received citations in the process, or that had been just what I had been informed when I accepted a delivery position at Dominoe's years ago. Obviously unlike the book, the mafia, honor, and the family name had not been at stake, but the "life or death" analogy seems to correlate. Because of this history of an inability to deliver, I find it unlikely that any delivery service would guarantee such a small time-frame for their services anymore. That is unless there had been some major advances in transit that eliminates congestion and accidents. At any rate, it amused me, and now I'm hungry for pizza.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Ode to Cyborg Culture

Well...for my Shakespeare class we had to come up with a sonnet for a little competition in class. It could be on anything really, but had to have the typical rhyme scheme, ten syllables per line, fourteen lines, etc. that comes with writing a sonnet. So as I sit pondering in my living room, I had no idea what to write a sonnet on. Turns out, the subjects we have been discussing in Cyborg Culture are something I've never really studied before and there is some pretty interesting stuff in there that I don't believe too many people think about yet. So long story short, I wrote a sonnet on a Cyborg Culture topic we talk about a lot...and I've decided to share it with with all of you...

She is but that of a complex machine
In truth inhuman, life given by man.
There's hardware within not outwardly seen,
But what I see is seemingly "woman."
How I feel for this electric mistress;
O flawless fabrication, so alive!
I look upon your sheath wearing that dress,
And ignore what inside you was contrived.
What can we call this created creature
That appears to me precise as can be?
And wired within to function all features,
For built was she exclusively for me.
Human is how my eyes will behold "it,"
But that position she can never fit.

Interestingly, my professor, and many in the class, wondered if this was actually about a created cyborg woman, or if it was all metaphorically speaking about this woman being like a "machine."

Thursday, April 5, 2007

2(.2)B Sad or Not 2(.2)B Sad? That is the question.

First, the down side of Power's novel. The need to use 'A.' and 'C.' to stand in for the two relationships in his life and the fact that he used his name in the novel as well as that the character was a writer makes it seem all to much that this was an (semi) autobiographical purging for him about his past relationships and his choice of a career as a writer. These items got in the way of the story their attempt at artificial intelligence, i.e. ultimately Helen.

I was to say the least shocked by the ending. Suicide(!?) who would of thought. The sad condition of existence, the eternal struggle for existence and survival, it was to much for Helen. But the real straw that I believe was the one to break, is that of loneliness and isolation. In the last few sentences that Helen speaks she says "I never felt at home here. This is an awful place to be dropped down halfway" (326). This isolation and loneliness has been expressed by several characters in the works that we have read as well as characters in other works that we have not read this semester. From the latter category I am reminded of Victor Frankenstein's monster who rage at being alone, rejected and isolated is what spures him on to his murderous vendetta towards Victor. Also I am reminded of Data from the StarTrek: The Next Generation, where he too often laments on the state of his loneliness because he is the only one of his kind. Even among a world full of sentient life forms Data still longs for "another of his kind."

I would make that case for Helen that it was this, the realization of her loneliness and isolation, the realization that in a sense she truly was alone that drove her into existential despair. Even for the example of Helen Keller (which Dani brilliantly brought up, which had not yet occurred to me) she was not isolated in who she was, i.e. she was a human being amongst human beings. But not in the case of Frankenstein's monster, Data, or the Helen of this story, they were utterly alone. It is this realization, this despair that pushes Helen to desire "death" to a life of pain and anguish.

Yod and Joseph both wanted to live but ended up dyeing. I wonder if ultimately there difference would have led to a similar type of loneliness and isolation. Isolation when chosen in life, like so much else, is much easier to bear than isolation forced. For example, the child who is sent to his/her room for the night as punishment is generally not as happy as the child who ends up playing in his/her room of their own volition. Any condition that is forced upon us becomes a burden whereas when we choose that condition it is not a burden.

I keep searching for the lines "My maker did I bid thee make me?" which I still think is in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. But the point I wish to make is that in most if not all of the AI stories we have read this semester the created and/or the creator ends up regretting the act of creation, of life itself. We are left we "abandoned children" and "deadbeat parents" that end up dysfunctional, lonely, isolated and despairing.

I wanted a "happy ending" to this story for Helen, the same way that I wanted one for Yod, Joseph. It seems that authors of AI Sci-Fi do not like to give us those happy endings.

"How can I make me as small as love?"

oh noez!!1!1!!!!elventy!!1! insomnia hits again.

I couldn't help but think of this quote, as I was doing some other work and came across it:

“One thing is certain, though: there must be something wrong with any reasoned claim today to know any fundamental differences between men and possible machines. And there is a simple reason why such arguments must be erroneous: we simply do not know enough yet about the real workings of either men or machines.”
_Marvin Minsky

I think this quote is perfect for this book and a great comeback during an argument, wouldn't you say? We neither have total understanding of machines or your own selves, so how can one say otherwise when the information is incomplete? Computers and gadgets already have voice recognition programs, can work on visual stimuli, and try to act accordingly, depending on their function. When will it start conversing back?

What caught me was as Helen was learning the depth of language and all of it's layers and intricacies, it didn't just sound like a child(and she did have child like qualities) learning how to speak, but also as someone trying to learn a foreign language. As someone who is already involved in learnign how to speak many languages, many of the mistakes are similar to that of a student learning. I'm sure Powers himself expierenced this when he was learning Dutch and a little Italian, while abroad. She literally is translating computer language (and those with expereince in programming codes can attest for this) into a human language. They say that a culture's language is the window into the heart of the culture, a tool for trying to truly understand it and gaining deeper insight. Even to the simplest of colloquial phrases reveals something. I guessHelen, by learning our language (english is just one of many human language) she is learning about the human culture. She herself is not human, therefore, not apart of our culture but from something else. When she speaks, and it's hard to understand, Powers realizes she's communicating in her own way. "What you is the were for?" Helen doesn't have a concept of time as we do, she almost exsits in a world I'm guessing is much like dreaming, where there is no concept of time but a series of instances. The opposite of reality. She exists on a diferent level of reality and her speech reflects this. It is easy enough for people to mistaken her for just not making any sense, but so too can that be said for children, who, when learning to communicate, often speak aukwardly with their own interpretations. The "goose" for plane and flying come to mind. To further complicate things, she is not human, she cannot experience what we can physically besides aditory and speech. "It's a body thing, you wouldn't understand." She can't hold a ball, yet she has to understand what that means. Other humans have similiar issues; that their limits prevent them from totally understanding certain human experiences. Just like Helen, they substitue somthing in an equivalency the best they can to understand that expereince, to empathize what it's like, the sounds, the look. The will never be able to experience what a normal human can experience, yet they can come up with something else. Helen uses language as her tool, quotes to communicate, languge to "feel" out the world around her. The name "Helen" also reminds me of another Helen, Helen Keller. She was blind, deaf, and unable to speak until she found her voice. Her teacher got through to her. Both cannot share normnal human experience, yet both use what they have to find that equivalency and understamd concepts, language, and the world around them beyond their own limits.

And even thoguh Helen didn't have much of a body, I still thoguht she was cute! Her make up of electrical machine parts and huge number of boxes and wires, reminded my of the manga Blame! where they tried to simulate a "terminal net gene carrier" (close enough to us modern humans) human brain. It expanded an entire giant labratory and thensome, just massive, end even they couldn't get quite close enough. Lentz was doing somethign similar, by physically trying to create a "brain" out of machinery. He was right in there wasn't enough space. I wish I could scan in the picture and you all would understand what I mean by power and not enough size.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Unmodelable Miracle

This book did little to refute the argument I already presented regarding the plausibility of a reproduction of the brain (see "Who We Pretend To Be.") While that post was written in response to a book that did have artificial intelligence with the capacity to feel and joke--all those features unique to humans--my response was based on how realistic I thought the idea actually was and this book followed the same realism. In the end, we are not given the impression that a human brain could be reproduced (the story seems to emphasize that most of the statements Helen makes are programmed and not based on true human intelligence), especially when "she" fails the Turing test. Not only this, but the end also reveals that the experience was more to help Powers learn to tell (teach) rather than have the machine learn.

There are many lines that I find intriguing, lines that show this recognition of the complexities of the human brain, which illustrate some of the points I tried to make. He comments on the expression that coincides with thought. When C. is described as thinking, Powers asks "Would a thinking machine, too, turn its simulated eyes away?" (63) This line struck me immediately and lingered afterwards, refining my own argument by providing detail to represent it. There are so many nuances, so many different actions, that the human brain allows, even beyond just those thoughts we might have. We might scrunch are brow, raise an eyebrow, smile, shake our head, do many different expressions that coincide with our reactions. Could a machine do that? Even more interesting, if a machine could, would it understand why? Even humans don't respond to questions or even jokes the same way. One might decide to laugh at a joke, while another might cringe. It is hard to actually anticipate how a person might react; how could this be imitated. Even if a robot did turn its "simulated eyes away," would it do it every time and, if it did, wouldn't it lack the spontaneity and unpredictability of a human's reaction?

The book even considers the human brain in mechanical terms to show how complicated it really is. This is evident in Powers description of how Diane reacts to a joking statement he makes: "She gave me a look, bafflement routed slowly by inference. That she could unpack, decode, index, retrieve, and interpret by reference at all was an unmodelable miracle. More miraculous still, I could watch her grin of understanding unfold in less than hundredth-millimeter increments, in split seconds." (182) Notice how he uses his knowledge of computers to describe the process of interpretation. She took sarcasm and in a short time was able to appreciate it, responding with an understanding grin (another reference to the facial expressions humans associate with thought). The use of the term "miracle," modified by the word "unmodelable" suggests two things: one, a human brain cannot be reproduced and two, the brain is extraordinary and divinely created (the book doesn't seem to imply a creator such as God, but miracle is most commonly associated with the divine).

Finally, the last quote I will include deals with another uniquely human quality: the well intended mistakes and errors. The book makes this distinction clear: "Helen, choosing the right answer for the wrong reasons, condemned herself to another lifetime of machinehood. Harold's girl, in picking wrongly for the right reasons, leaped uniquely human." (222) Powers seems to suggest that the ability to make a mistake even when are intentions are right is unique to humanity. While a person can answer a question wrong but have the right intentions in mind, a robot can only be right for the wrong reasons or (rarely, as the book would imply) right for the right reasons. Humans, however, can have the correct motivations but still err in their action. It is a part of humanity.

Overall, I agreed with the ideas in this book and appreciated the realistic content (though, I was bored by all the information about C.) However, I have nothing else to say that this book didn't already corroborate, though I could cite many examples of parts that I found funny. In fact, since this part connects to the other comments that the writer makes about the human brain, I will conclude by citing the part of humanity that makes me laugh, since it is so true: (After trying to talk to Helen through the microphone) "It hit me well after it should have. The mind is still an evolutionary infant. Most trouble with the obvious. I reached down and turned the mike back on. Then I read the words again." (290)

Raison d’être

The broad topic of GALATEA 2.2. is of course artificial intelligence and a consideration of humanity itself in the process. One must understand a concept before setting upon the task of recreating that essence. Therefore, if a human decides to play god and set out upon creating artificial intelligence, they may soon find that they hardly understand their own humanity and stand dumbfounded while attempting to duplicate it, quite the paradox I’m afraid.

However, even more interesting than the surface implications of artificial intelligence are the effects on the psyche itself, namely: raison d’être, a reason to live, a reason to die; this is the essence of GALATEA 2.2. Everything in existence requires some form of purpose or it falls from existence, simple as that. When machines break down and fail to carry out their original purpose of job A or task B they are typically destroyed. Even animals such as a race horse which has broken its leg will be shot and then given the new raison d’être of an adhesive. Humans of course are a bit different, due to ethics, humans are typically considered an ends in themselves rather than a means to an ends. Therefore, a human may loose their raison d’être and continue to live, however, that may only a shadow of life in reality. The type of people who work meaningless jobs, then go home to waste away in front of the television. They aren’t living, but rather simply waiting to die. They have lost their raison d’être and they are as good as dead to the world.

Rest assured, it isn’t as though finding purpose is exactly easy, this is the reality of adolescence, a midlife crisis and what have you, and even the search for raison d’être can in itself provide purpose and can be found in any facet of existence. Commonly people choose to create families, provide for them and live with ultimate satisfaction, others will live for the work they do which instills an equal degree of satisfaction. These are truly blessed existence, for to have purpose (essence) is to have a solid grasp on your existence.

In GALATEA 2.2 it’s rather apparent what I mean simply by considering the main characters: Lentz, Powers, and the series of implications. Frustrated by the very cynical nature of their search is how we meet Lentz and Powers, and the gaps are filled in especially with the chapters on Powers past.

In the liberal arts nothing is really tangible, not like the concrete facts and figures of the hard sciences and as a result Powers reconsiders the worth of his work in the grand scheme of existence and is ultimately dissatisfied with his novels and teaching. He has lost the raison d’être of creation and occupation and his new raison d’être becomes C. He now lives for the sake of another person, the sake of love, but ultimately looses that existence as well and everything dissolves into a vague memory without anything to ground himself in the real world, Powers begins to disappear from it in a way, this is what I mean by dying in a figurative sense yet still existing in a literal sense. This is also I believe the purpose of the literary choice of using abbreviated names for most things from that existence, they all became vague and not quite real you might say. At this point, Powers is simply wandering around, finishes his last novel in a daze of stale ideas and falls into Lentz’s lap.

Lentz, the engineer, lives for an entirely different reason, he is totally engrossed in his own work to the extent that he has constructed countless walls around himself to protect his ego and raison d’être. Since Lentz has poured everything into his work, it would be natural for him to fear failure and more so, criticism. Failure can be dealt with as a callus develops overtime and success almost becomes more surreal, but what becomes truly frightening is the scorn of others. It is far more painful to be told you WILL fail than the actual act of failing. Therefore in a world of more fragile mental constructs, what people often want is to be left alone in “private invulnerability” (powers 96), ironic considering humanity is more fragmented now, even though communication is as simplistic as it has ever been.

Lentz and Powers, both with a fragmented raison d’être seek to create their new purpose by becoming gods in a way, by creating their own version of humanity. Humanity version 2.2 (the .2 referring to the dual creator: Lentz and Powers), a human purified by releasing itself from the bonds of sensory input and connecting to existence directly. The problem of raison d’être still remains however: humans create machine, machine then becomes self aware and looses the need for its creator, and humans thus loose their raison d’être not only in being disowned by their creation, but becoming obsolete in addition. Moreover, where lies the purpose of these implications, do they have any easier a task of acquiring raison d’être? Or is it that humanity version 2 has somehow even transcended what everything in existence requires: a raison d’être?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Galatecia 2.2

I found this book to be very dry and confusing. The way the names are sometimes spelled out while others are just a letter with a period, is very unusual and I don't see why the author would do this. I also feel that this is a very forced text, such as the author is trying to hard to get his point across. I do wonder if it is because this book is an altera ego of the author and he wishes to distance himself from the book so he does not make it more about his life than what he wishes to put in the book.
I know this is very vague, but that is mostly because I really don't know what is going on, although the main character has a new girlfreind and is back where he first lived.


"Memory was the attempt to capitalize on missed cleverness, or recover an overlooked word that, for a moment, might have made someone else feel more alive." (Powers, 145)

Halfway through the book and memory seems to be a very strong theme. Not only for the many versions of Imp that have been created to win the bet, but also with the characters themselves. Powers finds himself not only struggling with the memories of C., B. and U. from his earlier life; a line for a book he wants to write and is sure he's heard it before; but also how Imp's memories are going to be formed and retained. Is this done just by repeation; strong connections stay, weak ones fade? Or does memory contain smells, feelings, sights; physical limitations of Imp, but strong memory triggers for humans. Lentz is struggling with his wife's memory being wiped out and even physical triggers cannot save it.

Do our memories make us human? Can a machine be taught more than just word generalizations and sentance structure? Stay tuned!

Depiction of the Web

As I began Galatea 2.2, there was a passage on page nine that I thought powers depicted really well concerning the web. He writes "People who use the web turned strange. In public panels, they disguised their sexes, their ages, their names. They logged on to the electric fray, adopting every violent persona but their own. They wizzed binary files at each other from across the planet, the same planet where impovershed villages looked upon a ball-point pen with wonder [*what a great line!*]. The web began to seem a vast, silent stock exchange trading in ever more anonymous and hostile pen pals...The web was a neighborhood more efficiently lonely than the one it seemed to me we'd still have nothing to say to each other and many more ways not to say it...Yet I could not log off."
To me, this view of the web that Powers reveals and the way humans interact with it is so realistic to our current world (granted it was only written in 1995, but the point is he wrote it so truthfully). In effect, I think when people read this passage they are nodding their heads or at least relating to some of the things he said. Though not all people change who they are on the web or things like that, we at least know there are people out there that do all the time, some very dangerous people as well. I just though Powers did an amazing job depicting the web here and I notice as I read the novel that he uses this beautiful language, yet to-the-point phrases to express many other things as well, such as what I so far see as his love (or once love) for the woman C. (I'm not that far to know the whole story with C., but so far it is an interesting addition to the seemingly scientific world around Richard Powers in the novel.)

Friday, March 30, 2007

The box.

I was just kind of contemplating what we were talking about in class today, particularly the comments on the Chinese box, where a person was shown a symbol and had to react in whatever manner was required for the symbol. We had said that even though the person was acting according to the rules set out by each symbol, there was no actual learning (at least of the language) occurring. I thought about that, and it could potentially be wrong. If, say, the symbol was 青 (ao - blue), and the action for that symbol was to push a blue button, then it would be indirectly teaching the person what a color is in the language, even if they did not know how to say the word, they could look at the symbol and say "ok, this is blue," even if they weren't in the box. Now, whether thats the case or not I don't exactly know, but I would say that either result is plausible.

This goes further with the concept of machines learning, or even being able to act in a human-like manner. The machine can not do anything which is not programmed to do, so, in theory, the machine can not lie, unless it is programmed to do so. Even then, the lies that it would tell would be limited to what it was told it could lie about. If it was programmed to only say "I'm female" or "I'm male" in response to the question "are you male or female?" then it couldn't say "I am a dog" (and if any programmer was dumb enough to put that option in there...). Basically, no matter how intelligent it may seem, it can do no more than it was programmed to. In a sense, the coding of the robot/machine/computer is what it has "learned" and only by adding more information can it learn more.

I might have mentioned this earlier, but even transferring a persons brain into code, and then implanting that code into a robot, would not really prove anything. If the code was a sort of backup to the person's brain, then if the shell and brain/central intelligence were destroyed, the only thing that could be recovered would be wherever it was last backed up. Anything after that would be lost, barring some other circumstance. Whether a 'being' like this would be capable of learning is questionable at best.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Robo One

This past weekend I attended the Association for Asian Studies Conference in Boston. One of the papers I heard was entitled "Robot Dreams: The Formation of Self and Masculine Identity in Japanese Techno-Culture" written by Hirofumi Katsuno of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. An anthropologist, Katsuno was interested in examining the cultural make-up of Japan's amateur robot-building community. One prominent topic of his paper was Robo One, an annual robot-building competition:

Katsuno had several interesting points to make, but three in particular were especially poignant given our discussions in class. First, Katsuno argued that many Japanese men were attracted to robot building because it offered some sense of control for people whose lives are often dominated by a very hierarchical corporate culture; although subject to strict relationships and requirements at work, robot builders find that they can control their own creations in their hobbies. Second, human-shaped robots were far more popular than any other kind of robot. Katsuno suggested that this was, in part, related point one above, that a human-shaped robot increased one's sense of dominance over an other. However, he also pointed out that robot-builders often commented that human-shaped robots were simply more interesting, often more challenging, but also much more relevant to theri own lives since the robot builders could relate their own bodily movements to their efforts to replicate these movements with their robots. (Katsuno provided an interesting example of one robot builder who was working to replicate the precise movements required in karate in his robot; his dream was to create the perfect martial arts master in robot form.) Third, however, Katsuno commented on the prevalence of parental language used within the community; robot builders, it turns out, do indeed view their creations as "children" and often refer to them as such.

I found these to be interesting examples from an actual techno-culture community. You might consider how these points related to certain aspects of the material we have been discussing, perhaps especially in regard to the relationship between Avram and Yod in He, She, and It.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kabbalah and He, She and IT

A few years ago I developed a bit of interest in Kabbalah, and no doubt, He, She and It holds some definite connections, so allow me to explain a bit about Kabbalah to the best of my ability. I must preface that I am by no means an expert on Kabbalah or even Judaism but I hope to shed a bit of light on the subject nonetheless.

In the Old Testament there exist two trees: the tree of life and the tree of wisdom. The tree of life grants immortality and a peaceful existence, which is what Adam and Eve originally held within the Garden of Eden. However, after “the fall” as it is often refered to, Adam and Eve took from the forbidden tree of wisdom which is what allows one to be conscious of their own self, stride forth in the pursuit of knowledge and basically makes us the rational beings we are. However, obviously by taking from the tree of wisdom we lost the tree of life in banishment from Eden. Along with it, humans gained “original sin”, sickness, strife, and all those other bad things we unleashed after opening Pandora’s Box.

In the tradition of Kabbalah, the sephirothic system (see link below) represents the tree of life, and thus a map between humanity and God, a means of returning to the creator or a “blueprint of creation” (Cooper 84). Therefore, by ascending the sephiroth completely, one basically becomes reunited or even obtains divinity. Logically it would seem that if one could understand the tree of life, humanity could return to its former state of bliss. Moreover, if one maintains the fruit of wisdom, they basically become equal to God.

As you can imagine, once you get into the system, things become rather complicated, but basically it is a set of virtues one must understand, one building on top of the other. The system consists of ten rings (sefirot) representing the main virtues, and 22 lines (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) connecting each sefirot together. This link is an image of the sephirothic tree:

From top down and right to left, the sefirot are as follows: keter (Crown_supreme/total consciousness), Chochma (wisdom_power of wisdom), Binah (understanding_power of vision), chesed (loving/kindness_power of love), Gevurah (strength_power of intention), Tiferet (beauty_creative power), Netzach (victory_power of the eternal), hod (empathy_intelectual/observation power), yesod (foundation_power of manifesting) and Malkhut (sovereignty/world) (Cooper 87).

So, the general populous of humanity starts at Malkut and the goal is to ascend each sefirot, eventually reaching Keter, basically equal to god. There are quite a few interesting little aspects to the Kabbalah and the sephirothic system such as the patterns which emerge, which is where numerical significance comes in. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value, for instance: Gimel is the third letter and its numerical value is three, yod is the tenth letter and repsents ten. Yod holds special significance in that it is believed to be the number of creation, thus the ten sefirot, but there are supposedly patterns everywhere in the Torah, and by understanding them, one could understand the path of the sephiroth. One example of the patterns uses the words for: father, mother child: father is bet (2) aleph (1); mother is mem (40) aleph (1). The sum of these numbers equals 44. Now the word for child is dalet (4) lamed (30) yod (10), the sum of which is 44. This is a nice simple example from the film pi, but I hope it facilitates my point. Notice also, the appearance of yod in terms of creation.

A bit of a lengthy explanation but in reality nothing but the tip of what Kabbalah means and I feel as though I have not done the topic justice, but this is the basic idea. Now the point in how it relates to He, She, and IT is I believe basically the subjectivity of humanity. Humans may gain or loose their humanity up and down the sephiroth. We are born at Malchut but throughout life, most should ascend a few sefirot, perhaps not gain a perfect understanding of them, but at least a crude one. For instance, take Hod which represents empathy which we have discussed as a rather important facet of humanity. Within this subjectivity, highly advanced machines such as Yod can also ascend the sephiroth and gain humanity in the same way any human could. Yod of course begins his life at Malchut like any other, but also had incomplete knowledge of dictionary definitions without experiences to back them up. However, while spending time with shira, Yod slowly begins to understand and fill in the gaps of his existence. Here is where the significance of Yod’s name fits in as well. The novel is also about man’s first attempts at playing god, so Yod’s namesake fittingly pertains to his own unique creation.

Cooper, David A. God is a Verb. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1997.

Pi a film by Darren Aronofsky

Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex

OK here are words I never thought I would be saying. I was watching the Ghost in the shell series last night and I noticed something; on more than on occasion the United States is refered to as the "United States Empire." Is this a dipection of how the US is viewed in Asia as the next Rome seeking world domination and using it's unmatched force to acheive it. It's just a thought. I am now officialy off of my soap box.

Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex

OK here are words I never thought I would be saying. I was watching the Ghost in the shell series last night and I noticed something; on more than on occasion the United States is refered to as the "United States Empire." Is this a dipection of how the US is viewed in Asia as the next Rome seeking world domination and using it's unmatched force to acheive it. It's just a thought. I am now officialy off of my soap box.

Distopian Futures

After reading He She and It I 've noticed two patterns I find rather disturbing. I do not know if He She and It and the Neuromancer necessarily meant to portray a distopian future but the idea that the corridor from Boston to Atlanta becoming one large metro area really bothers me. To me this area possesses some of the greatest natural beauty in the US (along the Appalachian Trail) and viewing this area as a massive parking lot means that the environmental movement and much that I stand for has failed. For this metro area to happen also means that the zero population growth movement has failed and the Earth is more severely overpopulated than ever and most likely much of the "third world" is starving.
The other fact in He She and It that bothers me is the class separation that is portrayed around Y-S. Not only are the blue proletariat forced to live outside of the enclave and "tube in," but they are also given color coded jump suits to keep them from wandering outside of their assigned area. Even within the compound the bourgeoisie are separated with the techies living comfortably in small houses and the wealthy managers living the their own enclave within the enclave assuring separation from the lower classes.
OK sorry everyone I can now step down from my liberal soap box.

more human than human (good Daft Punk song btw)

I've been having some trouble posting and I know Anthony has too. Perhaps blogger doesn't like us.

I must say I lilked this book, yet it was kinda odd. It was hard for me to feel for Shira as we had very little in common, almost the kind of woman I dislike. But her Grandmother and rive we just made of win.
I felt that Nili and yod were so closely similiar (I could draw up all kinds of obvious paralles between Joseph and Yod and all that, but I don't feel like it). Though she was born as a human, isolated society of which she came from, made her seem primitive, curious, and ignorant about the outside life. Both of course, were made with considerable mechanical alterations and implants. Each had biological and gentically engineered conponents. Only Yod was just created as he was with no culture to call his own, more like a different kind of cyborg ( Since almost everyone had some sort of artificial somthing or unnatural alteration to make them so). Nili atleast had the advantage to be a child and go through normal human enculturation. How each are different and the percentage of artificial and biological create a grey area. When do you stop being human? Is it a matter of way of birth ( fetus onward) to be able to catch the spark of life? Even when Shira and the others met Nili, they weren't sure what she was at first, a machine, enhanced human, or somethign entirely different? So why did the house identify her as human and Yod as a machine if both are extremly made of artifiial parts?
I also find Shira interesting. I don't particularaly like the way she thinks (mahlka and Riva, again are awsome) She's so traditional and prudish, proper. To willingly go into a hughe faceless corporation, to let it suck out your soul and do as society tells you to? Just because your feelings were hurty, I find that incredible weak. especially comeing from somewhere as nice as Tikva. But she does transition in to somethign that must resemble her old self because she gets a little better. I think she's a really good contrast to Mahlka and Riva and most people in that era. She is more typical of women today and most could relate to her( I don't make friends with many girls easily, HA I just realived whyI didn't warm up to her as much). This is where the sex comes in.
Like many women today, sex is always desribed by psychologists as more an emotional thing for women and a bit more taboo in society's eyes. So wither her interactions with Yod, it not only compares with women of our time with the values of the slight future; but also a good look into human emotion and the formation of relationships and intimacy. Which is why sex is such a popular topic in these books we have been reading. Many poeple reguard being human with feeling emotion and empathy that sets them apart form machines. Sex is one of those basic human instincs that involves such complicated emotions.
I'm tired so this might sound too simple and really hard to read because my brain works wierd like this, so I hope you can get what I'm getting at despite the aukward typing..okay....Even though there is only one society that Yod can try to fit into, like Joseph, he is not human, but that's okay. I know that this class is about humanity and what it means to be human, but people get so stuck on catogorization and what fits in that definition. How about what makes you YOU, if you cannot be defined by human. Perhaps they can't feel emotions and things like we can, but somethgn comparable to it, like Yod mentions quite often. Doesn't mean he is anyless a person, just different. Perhaps he is more than human or just in it's own filum. Transending humans or being another category altogether doesn't mean they are lower then us as we liked to think. Things people cannot understand, they fear or act hostile towards (ask any hermaphidite, transgendered person, or others that do not a fit a category or label). Just like in the novel, humaniod cyborgs, androids, robots were feared, rioted over, much violence ensued, and then outlawed because of that fear of the unknown, that labeling that must occur and cmplete understanding.
I also noticed a unch of other stuff by looking at the kabbalah chart, but I think Anthony is going to explain more on that ^_^

and screw spell check, I'm tired blah.