Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What does it mean to be human!?

When I signed up for this class I never realized how much I would be pondering such questions as what it means to be human. The more we read and discuss the issue, it seems the more complex it gets! However, so far I think Ghost in the Shell hit hard on trying to determine what it means to be human, although it seems this question is still almost impossible to answer or define. Kusanagi is mostly a mechanized being except her brain and spinal cord are human (so I found). However, on her scuba expedition with Batou, we learn what's on her mind. She defines herself through the nature of her experiences personal to her, how she gains knowledge through these experiences, and so forth. Also, the personal beliefs she has within her help Kusanagi to figure out what her experiences mean.

Later in the movie we see the encounter between Kusanagi and the Puppet Master. Upon looking at the cryptic image of the blond girl the Puppet master possesed, Kusanagi notes how they "look alike" and then questions whether or not her experiences are actually her own or human. She makes a really interesting point when stating that being treated like a human doesn't prove that she is human (there goes that definition:) At one point the Puppet master argues with Nakamura and the idea that memory defines mankind is brought up. Nakamura refutes the Puppet Master (or I guess Project 2501) is human but is shot down when 2501 tells him to prove his exsistence. What is most interesting is however is when Kusanagi's ghost interacts with Project 2501's ghost. We find out that 2501's believes two major components of life is reproduction and death, which he lacks. They also discuss the importance of variety and originallity in living beings. Already the movie has defined for us many different views on what it means to be human or have life.

Finally, I thought the concept of 2501 merging his ghost with Kusanagi's was an intriguing way in which cyborgs could reproduce to create a new entity, which as it seemed would be a pretty powerful creation. This is somewhat similar with Wintermute wanting to merge with Neuromancer. Wintermute, like 2501, are stuck without bodies and are just "ghosts" exsisting in the world. Also, both Neuromancer and Kusanagi have established personalities and both also worry that a merging would diminish or destroy their already created selves. Though Kusanagi agrees to merging with 2501, it seems that at the end of the movie the final entity is more Kusanagi than 2501 so maybe her fear of losing herself didn't happen to a full extent. It would be interesting to see the second movie or the series to see what kind of being Kusanagi truly is.

Project 2501 - Machine or Living Being (or Both)?

First off, let me just say this... Masamune Shirow is a genius, and Mamoru Oshii is amazing for putting Shirow's idea into an incredible anime film. Good stuff.

Ghost in the Shell brought up a number of interesting questions commonly associated with a number of our in-class discussions, although they're not always brought up. Some of those underlying themes are the questions that've been asked since the great age of technology began, as follows:

Can a "machine" be considered "alive?"
Can a "machine" have a "soul?"

I used quotations on purpose. Why? Most of the terms in quotations will have multiple definitions depending on who you talk to. What does one consider to be alive? What is a soul? These are questions that have been discussed far before the technology age began. Some of it has been argued with science, others with the traditions backing various religions. Personally, I don't think I could give you a definate answer to support what I think, but niether can you give me a definate answer to prove me wrong (and you can't say faith proves it; I'm not buying that excuse)!

Ghost in the Shell portrays technology in which they have been able to identify the existence of a person's soul. In most cases of definition, part of being "alive" means you must have a soul. Therefore, there can be a defined difference between a living organism and a machine. Machines can be created such that they have a soul within them as well, as if the soul was simply another manufactured product from a production line in a dark factory on a no-name street. This brings up a disturbing image of a future in which the soul is no longer considered a sacred or spiritual object, but rather a psuedo-physical one that can be crafted or destroyed. The thought of creating a machine and giving it a soul sounds promising to the lonely, but in order to gain something another thing must be lost. If a machine can gain a soul, what does it lose? What does humanity lose if machines gain a soul?

In addition, it's apparent that one's memories can be implanted, removed, or modified with the use of technology. It also seems possible that one's memories can be transferred to another location. As far as I understand it, it seems that the Major's brain is essentially organic, but that some of her psychological processes are mechanated. Does this mean some of her memories and brain functions have been cut-and-pasted into the mechanical subroutines of her mind? Such technology would be mindblowing (pun intended) and create a number of controversies almost instantaneously. If you could transfer your entire mind from an aged, dying body into a young, pseudo-human cybernetic body, you could continue living far beyond the normal lifespan of a human being. In addition, if your new mechanical body took some sort of damage that would normally kill a human being, you could just get some replacement parts (although in the movie it seems that the parts are not necessarily easy to get, as Batou had to get a replacement body for the Major/Puppet Master over the black market). Essentially, it could turn into an attempt to grasp at immortality.

Now let's couple this idea with genetics. What if we could manufacture a human body, organic in all senses of the word, and then transfer one's mind into it? You could continue your life this way, or perhaps live another life entirely. That sort of says something about reincarnation, now doesn't it?

Overall, Ghost in the Shell gave me a lot to think about. I saw it years ago, but I never watched it with this sort of mindframe before. I have to say I enjoyed the deep themes it displayed, and it'll keep me thinking for a while.

Now, a couple of other random thoughts that are essentially off-topic...

That tank was awesome. It gives a new meaning to the phrase "all-terrain vehicle." Those of you who have not had the chance to see the series, Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex should check out the mini tanks they use there if you liked the huge one in the movie. The little ones are called Tachikomas. They may appear in Ghost in the Shell 2 but I havn't seen that one... yet.

I... would like Batou's ridiculously huge cannon/gun. Sweet.

GOD, Machine, or someting else

Blogger is being extremely bitchy today, making it really had to sign in and post...

I definitly noticed before we discussed it in class, about gender. It seems that what has separated men and women where biological regions and stupid assumptions derived from it. Technology levels the playing field where only your mind, or how you were wired, is what defines you as a person. Looks can be changed, weakness altered to be strengths, and hormones changed into something else. Especially when you "jack in" you are apart of something else. You "meat" no longer hinders you as long as you have things supporting your basic biological needs.

I also notice that over the course of the book Case keeps referring to his emotions, instincts, lust, and biological needs as his "meat" part of himself. His body is the meat. Yet as much as he tries to ignore the meat, it does start to affect him. His fondness for Linda and after a while a certain bond with Molly is perhaps not just a product of the meat but part of the wiring that most humans have for other humanly contact.

Neuromancer was the personality, the one with closer to what consider feeling. Wintermute was the brains, the decision maker. As the reference was before, "two halves of a human brain, the left lobe and the right lobe," and once they are unified it makes a whole person. Yet The AI becomes something much more then that. You can't pin down what it is. It can create a reality of it's own, even in what we think is reality. It can also resurrect life into an eternal paradise, or at least of what Marie-France's fragmented incomplete idea of paradise would have been. It's not really resurrecting form the dead and the discussion of if you can't tell the difference between the copy and the original (in this case the copy has no idea it even dies) and it is an exact replica, isn't it the same? I suppose it depends on what you think consciousness is and spirituality and all that. It's almost like a god in a sense. It can create life and recreate life that it bends real reality, whatever that is.

Drugged Up

There are vast amounts of references to drugs throughout Neuromancer. It seems they have everything from neurotoxins to awareness boosters in every sense we do now, except considerably more accessable.

The story begins with Case being poisoned [by a drug] and trying to recover from that mess so that he can get back on the matrix to re-live his glory days as a console cowboy. To fix this mess, he goes through some procedures to have the majority of the toxin removed. A simple fix for an elaborate problem, I suppose?

Before all of this mess, Case seemed to be a pretty heavy drug user, dealing with all sorts of wonderful things that can kill the average man with unwatched doses. He's done so much that his organs are starting to fail with irreperable damage. What's the cure? Replacement. However, his new organs were modified in such a way that he was made immune to the effects of the drugs he had previously used. Therefore, there was no reason for him to be taking any of those drugs, as they wouldn't have any effect on him in the future.

I know drug use is pretty serious in some areas now, but will we really get to the point that Neuromancer portrays? What about those who are heavily addicted to things now? I used to smoke pretty heavily for a few years and it's taken me quite a bit of effort to kick the habit. I admit I still have trouble some days and I'm on the verge of beginning again. Perhaps I could just go have some lung surgery done and have my replaced with ones that block out nicotine and remove all the addictive effects of cigarettes? Could those dealing with heavy alcohol addictions simply get a new system that'll nullify the effects of alcohol or prevent it from seeping into the bloodstream?

This presents an interesting (and probably costly) alternative that may be developed sometime in the future, fictional or otherwise. I'm sure at some point we'll be able to grow organs back, prolonging our lives even further than they were originally meant to be. Is this the future we seek, one similar to Gibson's Neuromancer where drugs are abundant, organs are renewable/replacable, and all of the above is considered normal?

Personally, I'd rather live a short but good life than a long and traumatic one... but perhaps that's just me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Question Of Immortality

What could it really mean to upload the conscious into a computer? This question was posed in class last Thursday when discussing the idea of a person's personality being "saved" in cyberspace, or "the Matrix." While the idea of immortality was presented as a possibility, where the old bodies would be thrown away as the mind lives on in the computer, there are many flaws to consider. It is an interesting thought--even the idea of entering a world where you can be anyone or anything is fascinating--but there are certain problems in this viewpoint. Most of these were addressed by either me or others, but I will repeat them here. All brings to question the practicality of a virtual world.

One of the questions I brought up in class was the probability of anyone actually exposing their entire self online, especially when they tend to keep their identities relatively private on the Internet. Most people hide behind a user name to shield themselves and be honest without repercussions. It is rare for someone to reveal too much of themselves online. The prospect of a person offering their entire self to the public is unlikely, for at least a large number of individuals. Would a person actually reveal every part of themselves to the public, or would they do the same that they do on blogs? Would they offer their entire selves, including the dark secrets that they try to hide, or only what others would like? In other words, would they only include the person they want others to see them as? Consider how the bold ones, even if they do express themselves, still maintain some secrets, while the ones who reveal their name might be more careful. Imagine, for a moment, a MySpace where the consciousness of the people is online. Sounds good if it is only your friends who see you, but imagine complete strangers learning your personalities. Not everyone would be fine with that.

So what if a person just removed the problems they didn't want people to know about? Well, this creates the question of identity. If we removed our flaws, would we be ourselves or, even more, would we still be human? Aren't these flaws apart of us? Worse, aren't there good qualities that we still might want to keep hidden, as even they could be considered weaknesses? The problem is, our "immortal" identity, which we upload unto the computer, probably wouldn't include everything that makes us who we are. I may not want to expose my weaknesses online, but I know that I wouldn't want to lose these flaws and secrets. Why would I want to destroy my body and all the flaws within it?

What about computer hackers? We might think that uploading our consciousness would prove to be relatively safe, because we would still be separate identities, but once we enter the computer world, wouldn't we be just as vulnerable as any file? Wouldn't we be made into 0s and 1s (if they don't become obsolete). There is definitely a threat of being exposed (firewall, anyone?). In fact, even "jacking in" features this threat, since the mind is open to the public. And what about computer viruses? I would not trust my life to a computer that could crash at any moment. Imagine putting your life in the hands of Microsoft. Scary, huh? Why do we still backup our work if we don't recognize the threat? It would probably be better to keep an original copy (i.e. our bodies!)

Finally, the question of immortality includes the question of humanity. Claiming that immortality is found in the preserving of our conscious suggests that the mind is our identity. Now this is great if you adhere to the idea that thinking makes us who we are, but it is useless if you believe in a soul. If it is a soul, and a spiritual world, that you feel defines you, than immortality is much easier than developing such a technology. And if those who believe that a soul defines our identity are right, then the computer has nothing to do with it. The conscious might not bring the desired immortality (and trust me, I would rather put my eternity in a perfect Being than man made, inconsistent technology).

So, while it would be cool to enter a world of virtual reality, it is fair to say that it is not the perfect existence for us to obtain. As far as I am concerned, it is merely science fiction.

Note: While this post does not specifically reference Neuromancer beyond just a short allusion, it is a response to the book as much as it is a response to the class. When I write responses, I tend to use the concept, and questions, within the book as the platform for my response. Though the references are few, it is in response to the idea of virtual reality as presented in this book. The same goes for "Virtual Reality Of The Mind." This was intended to be one of the original posts. Just thought I would clarify.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Ghost in Our Machines

Watching Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell was very interesting and had some great questions and insights. What I wish to focus on though are the meaning and implications of "the ghost."

The basic premise of the movie follows the assumption of the strong AI thesis, that being that all is required for intelligence and sentience is a sufficiently fast and complex enough program and then consciousness emerges. This cuts two ways first it means that we as humans are nothing special as far as consciousness and intelligence goes, we are just one small point on the time line of evolution. Second, if it really is true that consciousness simply arises out of complexity and speed then who we think we are really is nothing else than a ghost in reference to our own machine. When the mind, i.e. the brain breaks down, we cease to exist.

This is the materialistic premise behind the strong AI thesis, that being we are nothing more than a program running and who we think we are or might be is nothing more than the sum of the program and its specific memories and experiences.

The movie seems to imply that there is something special about being human. But if the strong AI thesis is correct then it really makes no difference if we are human, cyborg, android or computer. All that does matter is that we, which ever of the four previous "species" you wish to choose has consciousness "emerge."

The funny thing about the strong AI thesis is that, somehow and we don't know how, consciousness emerges from nonconsciousness. This is very much akin to the evolutionary argument that from the inanimate and lifeless matter of the universe that life emerges. This would be the same as how the movie portrays program 2501, after enough time, experience, and gaining enough complexity and speed she/he/it spontaneously (miraculously!?) becomes sentient and we have life.

The question that I have started asking myself this semester since we are focusing on AI in almost everything we have read or watched, is what truly is the status of intelligence. That is, is intelligence a necessary and/or sufficient condition for life? I would have to say that it is neither, since in the former case we have instances of plant life and microbes that we would say are alive but lack intelligence. Now in regards to the latter case of its being a sufficient condition, I, when the course started assumed it was, but now I am not so sure.

The movie stresses that for something to be a life form it needs to evolve and needs to be able to die. Unusual standards for defining life. Let us leave out the biological side of the issue for the moment and focus on (and assume for the sake of argument) the strong AI hypothesis as portrayed in the movie. I find it hard to imagine that the computer I am typing on now could somehow, someday simply by becoming faster and more complex actually become alive. Somehow I imagine that it would be much easier to see my computer as intelligent without being alive.

It seems to me now that intelligence does not necessarily make something alive.

Are animals intelligent? If the answer is yes then they too, as we, must have a soul or a ghost in the machine. But, what if the answer is that they are not intelligent and have no soul or ghost? Then Descartes would be right they really do not feel pain, anger, joy... they are just a system of stimulus and reaction, a purely causal system.

Another issue that the movie does not really chomp down on is "what is intelligence?" We seem to take for granted that what would count as intelligence can and must be something we recognize as, if not identical at least strongly similar to our own "intelligence."

Perhaps fetus' or young children do not have their ghost until their brain (i.e. computer) is sufficiently developed enough. But we already know that brain does not necessarily mean "mind" or "ghost" or "soul" until it gets complex enough for many creatures have brains that we do not give credence to for having either intelligence or a ghost.

How are we then to take Oshii's ideas represented in this movie?

If you happen to be a materialist, an evolutionist, then perhaps you welcome the ideas that life is nothing but increasing complexity. But if you happen to be of a theistic point of view it would be a shot at any importance of human values, morals and ethics.

Complexity and design do not happen by accident. Like creates like. Like comes from like. Perhaps we can someday achieve the goal of creating life, but I do not think it will happen according to the hypothesis of the strong AI argument. Intelligence is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for life, but if we ever do figure out how to create life and not just mimic some of its instantiations, we may then become as Gods ourselves. We may then discover what the other tree in the Garden of Eden really was offering us as an option.

Would that be a good thing?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Teaching the Machine

Here is an interesting comment on the potential of Web 2.0 technologies to alter or social and psychological world:


and a response thereto:


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Virtual Reality Of The Mind

Have you ever had a moment where you just let your imagination overcome you? Maybe you were sitting in class and was bored by the professor (which could never happen in this class), so you decided to daydream. Consider for a moment what you are doing. You are sitting in one place, but your mind has drifted into another world, probably creating different scenarios that may stem from your life. Sometimes, the emotions within your imagination is so strong that you feel the effects of these thoughts. In effect, you are experiencing a virtual reality of the mind.

Now consider creative writers. They spends hours developing new scenarios, sometimes creating stories of how they want to be. They become so involved with these characters that they may connect to them and feel they are real, while some of it might be a reflection of the author. Creative writers may write to escape from reality and become so involved that they become a part of this world they develop. I have written several stories and I can testify to the fact that a lot of my writing begins from my own experiences, and sometimes I am so connected to this world that I sympathize with the characters and the events I create. Though I am not hooked up to a machine that reproduces reality, my imagination runs so high that I feel that I have become a part of this other world.

What about you? What about the reader? Have you ever just sat down and read a book that featured a character more successful than you, so much so that you picture yourself in that role. How different is this from the purpose of virtual reality? The mind can be so real that your thoughts can have a physical effect on you. Consider the cases of people who became sick because they thought they were. Have you ever heard the expression: it is all in your mind? Would it be too much of a stretch to claim that imagination is a natural version of virtual reality?

Friday, February 16, 2007

After much reflection on "Crash"

I’ve really struggled over the past week to fit Crash into a larger world scope. I found three things throughout the book that really struck me.
The first of these is the idea of “Autogeddon.” Ballard seemed to view Autogeddon as vehicles bringing about the end of civilization. It strikes me that Autogeddon may really betaking place in the form of global warming caused by vehicles in the hydrocarbon era. In the novel Vaughn uses his Lincoln as a force of destruction, where as in the world today the gas guzzlers like his Lincoln are causing the greatest environmental damage.
The second point I was able to dig from Crash was a warning against media desensitization of viewers. Throughout the novel actions became more violent and more outrageous for the characters, like a heroin addict more and more was needed in order to feel anything. In our world outside of the novel you can see the same thing happening. Take for example movies, since the beginning of the CGI era violence is becoming more and more graphic. I personally am very disturbed by the recent popularity of torture movies like Hostel.
The third point I found was the problem of technology becoming a necessary part of and overpowering personal relationships. This is most obvious in Ballard not being able to sexually perform outside of a car. Since 73 when Crash was written humans are becoming more and more separated and depending more and more on technology to communicate. We have lost the personal touch of looking at a person’s script when reading a letter. When reading an e-mail you have no clue to the writer’s mood like you may get through penmanship. Finally the piece of technology that confuses me the most and even more cuts the personal ties of communication is text messaging. We now have to type into our phone rather than simply talk to the person at the other end.
Well that being said I have to check my e-mail and send a couple of texts.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Crash Porn

I made the statement the other day that I consider Crash a porn novel and that it is not a work of sci-fi, now after having read the second half of the novel I still stick with that assertion even more so than before.

The novels obsession with sex, fetishism, death, eroticism, pain, injury, mutilation, homo-erotic, gore, and pedophilia, and such, are simply topics and themes that are screaming so loudly that I cannot hear anything else the author may have intended. Just because the theme for this novel happens to center around transportation in general and cars in specific they only happen to be the instruments of the fetish/eroticization. It could have been literally about the fetishization of any object or technology in general, but that would still just make it a porn novel.

Now it may be an objectified porn novel, or it may be a high-brow porn novel, it may be a fictional porn novel, or some sub-genre of porn but not sci-fi. It seems to me that it is simply a contemporary pornographic work of fiction.

I have been since I started reading this novel trying to get a better idea of how I would define sci-fi and I am still working on that, but unless sci-fi is defined overly broadly (so broadly that it loses any meaning as a definition) I cannot see putting this novel in that genre.

Suffice to say I did not like this work or enjoy it. Anything that might be culled out as worthy(?) of discussion is out weighed by the novels over-the-top use of all the above mentioned topics. Whatever Ballard may have been aiming at, other than controversy for sales sake, has been lost on me.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Well, you were not kidding when you said this book was disturbing. The images Ballard throws at the reader are non-stop..like skidding into oncoming traffic. Reading the book, to me, was like driving up on an accident..I just had to look!! The most upsetting images to me were the ones where sexual acts, upon kids, were being described. Those I skipped over..and then came back after few hours..and pages later. The other images, after awhile, reminded me of every print ad I have seen for either a car; fender here, radio there..or some item that uses a woman in the advertisement; when pieces of her are splashed all over the add..face here, leg there..and it has nothing to do with the product. All the scenes in the book became dismembered. Nothing human about any of the sexual acts, of the people involved, nothing recognizable about the vehicle. It seemed to me that technology was tearing everything up and throwing it back together..pieces falling where they may..and see what form takes place.

"Fleshy Points"

Let us begin with a quote... ladies and gentlemen, thumb your way to page 99 and follow along if you would...

"I imagine her sitting in the car of some middle-aged welfare officer, unaware of the conjunction formed by their own genitalia and the stylized instrument panel, a euclid of eroticism and fantasy that would be revealed for the first time within the car-crash, a fierce marriage of pivoting on the fleshy points of her knees and pubis."

By this time I was far enough along in the novel that the disturbing nature of the writing had little impact on me. Well, honestly I was pretty disturbed in general by it, but not as much as when I had first started reading. The though kept running through my mind as to why I was reading such material in the first place. Part of it was a mild interest to see how the novel would close itself out. [Part of it was because I paid for the course and because the almighty Clif said we had to read it.] However, I mostly just wanted to keep reading so I could contemplate how it could relate to something such as cyborg culture, rather than to another book of Letters to Penthouse (available at your local Barnes & Noble)!

Humanity's perversion and obsession with machines continually bombarded me throughout this novel. It seems as though we cannot survive without technology or sexuality, and now we are trying to find a way to merge the two of them together. In Ballard's novel, he expresses this desire with cars as the piece of technology and the crash injuries/victims as the forms of perversion. His sexual encounters reach their peak only when he is within a vehicle. The mere thought of one drives his character to orgasm. Sex is no longer a passionate act, but a ruthless and unrestrained one only achievable by the use of technology.

We have already surpassed this stage in some pockets of present society, although we often times choose to ignore it or have little knowledge of it. There are companies that produce machines and devices that mimic sexual acts themselves, removing the need for a second human being in the act. Sex has become a mechanical process for some in that sense, in that human is replaced with machine. Many cultures view sex as a sacred union between two people and something that should not be taken on a whim. These machines take over the role of one of those individuals, merely providing pleasure for the other human while receiving nothing other than a sense of gratitude from the human afterwards. (Does this make that human a cyborg after this stage?!)

Computers have greatly mechanized the entire sexual process. In my short time at Michigan Technological University, I was an unwilling witness to this sort of scenario. Those of you that know anything about MTU know that the ratio of men to women is four to one. Of the women, they are either already in a relationship, are blatantly unattractive (I don't say this to be rude, it's the truth), or have far too many diseases to risk a sexual encounter with (also known as "frat mattresses"). There were many among my dorm-mates who were single men, basically all of which owned a computer. One day I was walking to the central room to whip up a batch of Ramen when I witnessed a particular scene of interest that I only now remember. Across the hall from me was an open dorm room door, with one of the occupants on his way out. As he left, I watched the remaining student out of the corner of my eye. I saw him look around outside, most likely to see which rooms had their doors open (we usually left all the doors open when we were all in our rooms chillin'). I continued to watch as he quietly closed the door, and I heard the quiet click of the deadbolt lock.

I knew what he was doing. You know what he was doing. The computer became the only source of sexual "entertainment" for him. He couldn't find a human to interact with in such a way, so he had to resort to a machine. Tragic, no? Is this the path that Ballard sees us heading towards? Will there be a day when a single man can flip a switch, and a realistic female humanoid machine teleports in front of him for the sole purpose of his sexual enjoyment? I hope that our humanity doesn't stray that way, but I suppose my voice is just one among many.

I apologize if this entry offends anyone, but if you are offended then you probably havn't read the novel. If you have a story like my MTU one, it may be worth sharing just to prove I'm not the only one who's run into that sort of thing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


If there were any time I wished I was a cyborg its now. Strep sucks (at least I think its strep)

Anyways, onto the real topic.

I get the feeling that this book is relating a lot to Japanese culture. The neon lights, the protagonist Hito, the "Deliverator" favoring samurai swords over guns, and the Nipponsae (not sure if this is spelled right). Even though the book takes place in America, it still feels like its referring to Japan, more specifically Ghost in the Shell, though its not quite to that point, as there are no androids with souls here (though I could be vastly misinterpreting Ghost), although, once could ask if the hackers themselves are cyborgs or not. Hito may not necessarily be one, as he has an outside life and job, such that he isn't "just" a hacker. If you take his tools away, he will still be able to function in society, similar to Neo in "The Matrix". He worked for an accounting firm or something along that line. I also like that Hito seems to be working for the Mafia/Mob (Cosa Nostra is the proper term for the Sicilian Mafia), which would be fronting as a pizza delivery service. It's an idea of his real life identity versus his hacker identity, which he would like to keep hidden.

Note that I use the term hacker loosely. Many people that are hackers don't aim to wreck things, but to simply improve them. Those that do aim to do harm usually are able to cover their tracks. Recently, someone hacked (in the attacking sense) the US Government website and added the tag 'failure' to the biography of George W. Bush, so that if someone searched for the word 'failure', they got Bush's biography. Remember though that these people often don't know any other means. Take away their tools and they have nothing, thus they could be considered 'cyborgs'.

Scars are sexy

This book is a bit like a penthouse, actually no, more like one of those crazy european fetish magazines you can only buy off the internet......#ahem* But past all that sex is considered one of those wierd taboos that is always in our face and familiar yet our society seems prudish. The main character always equated women with the cars and compares body parts or emotions to car parts. I think he even may have compared the highway and flow of cars to the rythem of his own body. Bodies and machines. That the technology all around us somehow makes things impersonal and can hide all the human drama, like when he was viewign his neigbourhood from his loft. This technology by crashing into beople transforms them, sets them free from conventional normal life and becomes something else. Sharing a difference of perspective then most because of what happened to them and the lasting signs of injury. In this way it is like the ultimate taboo is seen in a differnet light as the new techonlogy of the cars is able to touch and effect people in a way that technology seems to distance people physically. Not saying that all crash victems will end up that way, but something that is so draining and powerful and mind set in a state of choas can really mess with people. Vauhn seems to be like an artist or somthing, picking out those people who have suffered and brought them to a collective, an twisted passion of his for the ever advancing car to feel intimate with someone.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

My Dog is a Cyborg

Well, my wife and I took the leap and adopted a dog from the Humane Society. His name is Wiley (short for Wile E. Coyote Super Genius; yes, original, I know). He doesn't look like a cyborg, does he? How do you tell the difference between a dog and a... um, canoid? When we adopted him, we were informed that he had a microchip. "Excuse me," I said, "a microchip?" Yes. When he was brought in to the Humane Society by the Green Bay Police Department (he was a stray), they inserted a microchip underneath his skin: Home Again ID. With this microchip, if he runs away and is found, he can be "scanned" and all of his information, such as his home, can be brought up on the computer. Neat, huh?
Anyway, that got me to thinking, why don't we do this under other circumstances. For example, consider the number of missing children cases in the United States. Could something like this help find those children? Help them get home again if lost in the mall? Catch criminals who abduct them? Could this be a good thing for human beings as well as our pets? But what are the other implications of such technology if used on human beings? With the proper technology, would our car start for us automatically? Could we set our lights to come on when we come home? Our TV to turn to our favorite channel? (Dial 3.) But then, could businesses tailor advertising to us personally? ("Mr. Ganyard, you look like you could use a Guiness." Well, yes, now that you mention it....) Of course, if that were the case, how much information would the police have? Is that a good thing? Break the law, and you're immediately identified. Take a trip to California, and you're immdeiately identified. Vote in the next election....

Reasons Why I Hated (Yes, Hated) The Movie Blade Runner

I had planned to post my problems with the movie Blade Runner after I saw it yesterday but didn't get a chance to and, as a result, much of what I wanted to say was already included in Anne's post. However, instead of just commenting to her post, I thought I would include my thoughts here, even if they are repeated. The difference is in tone because, while Anne mentioned she hates movies that are poor adaptions to a book, I just plain out hated this movie as a film. I will begin with reasons based off of the reading and how it effected my viewing experience and then continue to why I hated the movie even if I hadn't read the book.

This movie was "inspired by" the Philip K. Novel, which is another way of saying that the filmmakers took the general idea but tried to "vamp it up" with all the sci-fi cliches and action scenes, which I will complain about later in this blog. Where was the depth? First, I need to say that the films portrayal of Rick Deckard was a horrible re-imagining of the character in the book. I don't know if it was the script or Harrison Ford's performance (why, Han Solo, why? Just kidding. I hate Star Wars. Probably shouldn't have printed that.) Either way, I didn't care at all about the character. Seriously, where is the inner conflict? Where is the questioning of humanity? The film did a horrible job in expressing this controversy of what determines life that is found in the book; Rachael does question if Deckard is an android and if he ever killed an human by mistake, but it is only thrown out without any implications, like it is merely obligatory. Worse is how they made the androids so human in there emotion and even have empathy (or at least remorse, as evidenced by the scene where Roy kisses the dead body of Priss, more on that later). The problem with this is that, if the androids have empathy, wouldn't the question of humanity be more important instead of barely even be mentioned? The film's fault was that it chose to focus way too much on the replicants lifespan and not enough on the question of life.

There are self indications of the flatness of Rick in the movie as compared to the book. One is that he is coming out of retirement but I never actually understood why, and his lack of hesitation in returning demonstrates that the issue could not have been that deep. He kills without regard for his actions, never seeming to care (even Luna Luft is portrayed as a lower former of entertainment, which would obviously make her "retirement" a lot less significant). In the book, his decision to have sex with Rachael was portrayed as being an action that could get him in trouble and therefore was more of a conflict, but in the movie he just grabs her and forces himself on her. It seemed more like he was raping her, since she did not seem to pleased, and that created the impression in my mind that she was just some kind of slave that did whatever the man wanted. In other words, she was merely an object to give him pleasure. Since he was married, anyways, the action did really show any dangerous implications and, therefore, he lacked some of the inner turmoil that the book portrayed (a.k.a depth)

There are many other things that bothered me but I won't go into too much depth regarding these. I will say that removing Mercer and the empathy box was a major drawback and that changing the name of Isidore and the Rosen Corporation was completely unnecessary. And, like Anne mentioned, why was the animals basically removed? Why was the world so intact? It didn't look like a war had occurred. The answer, in my opinion, is not that they didn't have time, but rather they filled that time with cliches and "roll your eye moments" and substituted depth for mindless action.

This brings me to my problem with the film itself. Most of it was completely mindless and it got really boring after a while. Not to mention all of the extremely horrible dialogue and corny scenes that were filled with cliches. There were many moments where I thought the script needed a revision, and while I can't cite examples of the dialogue problems, I definitely would ntice it if I watched it again ("Wake up, it's time to die." Come on!) The climatic scene at the end was just so typical of hollywood, having to end it with a final battle (oh and having it on the roof where he hangs off the edge staring at death? That's original) Furthermore, how did he hang on so well after breaking his fingers? He sure didn't seem to be in too much pain as he was hanging on to the edge and climbing the side of the building with relative ease. The romantic scenes were completely pointless and not even built up to (Roy meets J.R. and Priss and then just kisses right in front of him, Rick basically rapes Rachael) The scene where Roy was counting to give Rick some more time and then stops to kiss Priss' dead corpse was definitely a "roll your eye moment" for me. I know that this movie is relatively old, but the cliches were around before then. They really don't have much of an excuse. All they do is take all the depth of the book away to create a more "entertaining" action flick, but movies with great action and little depth are not the type of films I enjoy. I wanted to leave halfway through and was constantly glancing at the clock. I hated this film.

I will say that I did appreciate the scene where we actually see Rick act as a detective. I would have enjoyed more if it had more of a mystery approach. This is the reason why I consider Minority Report one of the best Sci-fi films. It combined a brilliant look at the future with a interesting mystery that included plot twists that I liked and was actually surprised by. Movies with tension and mystery are much more interesting to me that mindless action. Sure, Minority Report had cliches, but I enjoyed how the movie seemed to be a good mystery set in the future instead of cliched action thriller based off a good story. When I watched Minority Report, I was made interested in reading Dick's story, but I doubt such interest would come from viewing the movie Blade Runner.

I am sorry for my exhaustive analysis but I hope you better understand my disdain for this movie and why I feel that way. You might not agree with me, but it is an opinion. And, as you probably noticed, my opinion is very strong.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Blade Runner

This was a very frustrating movie for me. It was way too different from the book and I kept waiting for the story line to match up. It never seemed to, so I got confused and mixed up a lot.
I think that if I had not read the book, this would have been a movie I would have sat through if I had nothing better to do. It wasn't the worst one I have ever seen, but it was not even close to a good one.
I hated the fact that there was so much emphasis on fighting, not on the contervsy about robots and humans surpassing them. Also, by having Batty actually kill someone because of anger, that did not help the idea that robots could be humans. Plus, I seemed to see emotions coming from the robots.


I hate when movie is so different from the book!! I realize movie have time restrictions, but I felt the movie lacked so much of the book! I really didn't see his internal struggle with killing the androids, the animals held no importance, either did Mercer. If I hadn't read the book..the unicorn dream would have been even more out of place. The affair with Raechel meant less when he wasn't married. The only hint that he maybe an android is the shot of his eyes reflecting like Raechel's. The movie definetely made the androids out to be "more human", more emotional, wanting to live longer.

But really, why change the Rosen Corporation and JR's name?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The was an excellent novel that moved along at a steady pace. It made me question some things, such as how dependent humans are on technology already and how much more dependent we could become. I found that using an emotion machine to generate different feelings to be scary and a bit confusing. First of all, how would that type of machine really make the humans different from the androids? To me, the machine makes a process out of feeling emotions, just as the androids had to think logically about things to figure out what feelings they may have. Such as, when Rachel was going on about how she felt for the other androids and how it must be empathy towards them. She had to think logically and follow a certain process to come to that conclusion. This is similar to how humans in this novel have to think about what they want to/need to feel before dialing it on the emotion machine.
I was confused about how the androids were made of biological parts-yet scientists had not yet found a way to have cell regrowth. How would this be possible-there is no way that enough human parts are lying around for the number of androids that are built.
I did like how Philip K. Dick made the reader question who Methodises really was. Although it seems as though the androids, especially the tv personal, proved that he was in fact an old time actor, they are a couple of spots where both J.R. and Rick seem to have an encounter with him. On the other hand, Dick makes that conclusion hard to buy because J.R. is known to have had hallucination's in the past and also because he is deemed a 'special' due to his brain being fried. When Rick encounter Methodises, he is under a lot of stress, which could be a cause for the hallucination. Plus, in the end, Rick believes that he and Methodises are the same person for a while and it is not clear if he ever really came to the conclusion that he is just Rick.
Finally, the last thing that struck me is the fact that the androids seemed to be enslaved by humans. It is as if the humans are so dependent on technology, they no longer wish to do any menial labor or any other job deemed beneath them, thus employing the androids to do it for them.
Overall, I did enjoy this novel. It caused the readers to think how like androids were to humans at this time and how dependent the humans became on technology.

**Note, this was done on Monday originally. This is the draft that was saved thanks to this site :D.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Are Emotions Just Human?

I just got done watching Blade Runner. I really wish they had stuck more with the novel, but there were some interesting additions to the story. Ironically, I think the film concentrated mostly on the pure technology and fighting instead of the actual moral issue regarding the androids.
What really struck me was the fact that they said flat out in the film that they believed there was a chance that the androids would develop their own emotional responses. In both the film and the novel you can see that the androids do experience some sort of emotion, especially when Rachel and Pris (in the novel) discover that they aren't human. They do express a frustration and a sense of loss when they realize that their memories aren't actually their own. There is an attachment to the other androids and even a few humans that they meet. I think these interactions do raise an interesting point about wether or not emotions are only in the realm of humans.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Future? (Technology of Fear and Necessity)

Drab. Dark. Empty.

These are a few words I'd use to describe the world that exists within Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Everything is dead or dying as the Earth tries to heal iteself beneath a blanket of radioactive dust. Many of mankind's members have fled the planet, leaving the remaining people in a place where they'll continually and eventually become stupider due to radiation. Those living among the stars have their own little android "slaves" to accompany them and tend to their every whim and will.

Occasionally, one of the mechanical masterpieces will get a mind of its own and flee to Earth, where police-funded mercenaries track them down and eliminate them. If they are not "retired" they have the potential to turn against humanity in a violent fashion. For this reason they are hunted down when they arrive on the Earth.

I'm overwhelmed by the bleakness of Philip K. Dick's view on the future in this novel. It seems to me that technology has become such a necessity in Dick's novelization that a human cannot function without it, as compared to how a human would function on any given day in today's society. Many of the themes were already discussed in class, such as the mood organ and empathy box. However, as much as the society of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep seems to rely exclusively on technology, they also seem to fear it. Androids turn against humanity and become a physical threat. Violence leads to fear, and thus the fear of technology.

Do you think our society is headed into an age where we will both require and fear technology? I surely hope not. Then again, technology is a broad topic. The invention of the horse-pulled carriage was an advancement in technology. Dick's novel describes the sci-fi-esque classic "hovercar," another advancement in the same field. I suppose I'm referring to more futuristic and computer-based technology when I ask the question of whether technology is to be required and feared. Personally, I have seen computers, cellphones, and other such objects to be extra items in my life, not necessary for my existence. I don't need my PS2 to have fun, but I will admit it is an object I use often. Then again, I'd be perfectly content to sit out on the lawn with a pencil and paper and just let my imagination run wild for a while, and that would be equally as fun. (Off Topic: Exception to that last statement would be the current weather. It's below zero out there... you won't see me sitting on the grass anytime soon!!!)

Rick vs Rachael

Dick put a few instances in his novel where the reader is believed to know one thing, than it twists into something different, then does something different again. One thing that caught my attention was Rick's "relationship" with Rachael. Though he questioned his job at the point where Luba Luft was killed, I think Rachael played an important role in his so called revelation as well. He sees her as almost real, has sex with her, and for a while thinks he loves her. Then, when they are in the car and moments after he says he'd marry her if it was legal, things turn. The reader finds out Rachael used Rick, more than he used her, when she says "no bounty hunter has gone on ...after being with me. Except one..."(198). In an attempt it seems Rachael tries to make Rick see that they are real by something so intimate as sexual induction and that he would see the androids in a new, sentimental eye...however, do to her lack of empathy, Rachael gave away her plan of swaying Rick, who becomes somewhat hurt or betrayed by it all. Interstingly, Rachael thinks she can read Rick by "that expression...that grief" (199) on his face. Here she is only reading him intellectually rather than emotionally, which she is unable. At this point Rick now sees her again as an "it" rather than a "she."

Though Rick doesn't kill Rachael, he goes on to kill the other three androids, mainly because of what this Mercer told him, which could possibly be what he trully felt seeing as how he claimed he was Mercer (which I got a bit confussed with). Rachael's Nexus-6 brain, more android than human, lost in the battle that she tried to wage with Rick and his human empathy toward androids, where in the end he did what he felt he must and ultimately kill the androids. (However, in her own way Rachael won too in killing something dear to Rick as the other androids were "dear" to her.) All in all Rick felt "required to do wrong," but maybe deep down near the end of the novel it didn't seem so wrong to him, he started seeing the andriods as "its" again, he thought "savagely" towards them, called them "stupid," etc. Finally, in the last pages Rick says "sometimes it is better to do something wrong than right" (242). What can we really make of all these jagged turns Dick puts in his novel?

Justifying Murder

"Do you think of them as 'it'?"
"I did at one time," Rick said. "When my conscience occassionally bothered me about work I had to do; I protected myself by thinking of them that way, but now I no longer find it necessary."
(Phillip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? pg. 125)

What does it mean to be human? It is a question that philosphers have asked for centuries. But to answer the question posed by Phil Resch in this book, it becomes necessary to reword this to apply to life in general: what do we think to justify dehumization? It is interesting to recognize the depth found in this quote, especially in how it applies to two issues: dehumanization and disensitization. The former is the more obvious--it addresses the issue of identity--but the latter is found in the statement "but now I no longer find it necessary." We have already discussed the idea of dehumanization in class, where it was mentioned that war requires people to view the enemy as less than human to kill. But now we come to the issue of justification as it relates to becoming disensitized. There many not be realistic cyborgs like in this book but you can fill in the blank here. Disensitization is found everywhere, and it always begins with justification. "It is alright to play violent video games, they're not actually real murders." "It is alright to watch films with torture sequences, it is just acting." Sure, this may be true, but disensitation can follow and that extends beyond just the games and the movies. This may seem controversial, but should we merely ignore those murders that were attributed to violent games and movies? Maybe you think that it is harmless fun, but those stories do help back my point about justification and its disensitizing result.

Now why don't I increase the controversy with another example. This quote reminded me of another hot topic in society: abortion. Consider this: imagine that the question was really about unborn babies and viewing them as merely an 'it'. Isn't that how we justify killing babies? By claiming that they are not life, we justify their murders, and then we become so disensitized that the justification is no longer necessary. Now you may disagree about whether unborn babies are living, but is that not the issue of justification that I am addressing? Amazing how such a short quote can have such a large implication.

Hopefully my analysis didn't cause too much controversy as well.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Empathy Box

Isn't this what we ended last Tuesdays class talking about? Empathy? Is this what makes us human? According to Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it is. The Voight-Kampff test, seemed to determine an android from a human based on empathetic responses to questions. I was struck by how the empathy theme ran throughout the book and how this seemed to be the one of things people left on earth were trying to cling to. The use of the Empathy Box by the characters and the belief in Mercerism; to stay connected to the human race they needed to feel other's pain, to walk in their shoes,to be able to empathize. But people did this by using an electronic device. That led me to think that people lost their empathy for each other. But that would also explain the "flattening affect"; the lack of human interaction and attention. If we continue to ignore each other; to create media that objectifies human beings as things to be bullied, raped and beat on, will we be using an empathy box to keep us human?