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.