Technology and the Cybercultural Imaginary: Part 2


Neuromancer


The novel Neuromancer introduced me to an entire new genre of reading: Cyberpunk. I can honestly admit that the suspense within the novel kept me interested but there were often times where I was completely lost in translation. Although after last week’s discussion of Cyborgs, I felt that many characters within Neuromancer such as Molly fit the role of a Cyborg. It was a common characteristic for many of the characters in the novel to encompass both human and artificial parts. Another theme from last week’s reading that came to mind while reading Neuromancer was Technological Pessimism. For a brief description Leo Marx described this concept as “…refers to that sense of disappointment, anxiety, even menace, that the idea of “technology” arouses in many people these days”(Marx 238). In the novel Neuromancer, technology dominated the society in a negative way and capitalist corporations controlled the society. Case’s continual drug use in the beginning of the novel also displayed his unhappiness within this technical society. The ability for hackers to break into secure networks is absolutely a concern that causes individuals to have feelings of anxiety and menace. For example, identity fraud is widespread fear that many people have since hackers are finding new ways to steal people’s personal information.



In the Wikipedia article on Cyberpunk, I found the section on Protagonists to be interesting. The article discusses how many of the anti-heroes such as Case are placed in manipulative situations where they must complete a task (Wikipedia). Case was put in a manipulative situation by Armitage and was given the order that if he didn’t complete his task on time the 15 sacs of mycotin would dissolve in his body and cause him more neural damage. This scenario reminded me of another movie that could be identified under the Cyberpunk genre, Swordfish starring Hugh Jackman, John Travolta and Halle Berry. Hugh Jackman would fit the protagonist in the Cyberpunk genre since he plays a professional hacker who ends up arrested after infecting an FBI program with a virus. Similar to Neuromancer, an ‘attractive’ female ends up recruiting him to perform a job for her boss. Through manipulation such as gunpoint and excessive money, Hugh Jackman’s character ends up agreeing to perform the criminal task.

Swordfish.jpg


The different references to advanced medical technology throughout Neuromancer were mind blowing. In particular I was fascinated by Molly’s surgical glasses or Julius Deane’s quest to beat mortality by allowing surgeons to reset the code of his DNA. Medical procedures involving outrageous ideas such as toothbud transplants in Neuromancer are not merely reserved for fictional genres such as cyberpunk. Many different cultures all over the world are continuing to explore the evolving technologies surrounding different surgical procedures. When William Gibson wrote the novel, medical procedures to fix or enhance our bodies was not as predominant and widespread as it is today among our society. For example face transplants were common in Neuromancer as characters strived to keep anonymity. Angelo was described as “His face was a simple graft grown on collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides…When Angelo smiled, revealing the razor-sharp canines of some large animal…”(Gibson 58). As I read about the different medical procedures being performed by black market surgeons in Chiba city, I couldn’t help but think of the popular television series Nip Tuck. One episode in particular came to mind where the plastic surgeons Dr. McNamara and Dr. Troy are being black mailed to perform a facial transplant on a well-known drug lord. The drug lord is demanding the surgery so he can remain anonymous and relocate without being caught. The irony within this episode was the new face the plastic surgeons gave to the dangerous drug dealer. Instead of giving him an entirely new face, they made him look like a criminal who is listed on the Top Ten Most Wanted List which caused him to be immediately arrested.

Nip Tuck.jpg


Gibson’s book mainly used surgical procedures to repair the body or alter it to retain unrecognizability. In our society we use surgical procedures as well to repair the body but it has been extremely common within our society to use medical advancements to enhance the image of our body. As Gibson describes characters as having excessive collagen, I wonder if he was foreshadowing the era we seem to be experiencing now where women primarily, use an array of fillers such as collagen, Botox, and fat transfers to rid their face of wrinkles.



Another example of foreshadowing I saw within Neuromancer was in Chapter 8 when Gibson wrote, “It was called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of community”(Gibson 102). What he referred to as “dub” we now refer to as dub step which is a form of electronic dance music that typically includes a loud bass. After researching the history of dub step, I discovered on Wikipedia that it originated in the late 1990s. I am a pretty big fan of this type of music so I was intrigued when I noticed this brief reference in the book.



“Cyberpunk.” Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/cyberpunk>.

File: Swordfish Movie.jpg. N.d. Wikipedia Web. 6 Nov 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/file:Swordfish_movie.jpg>.


Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin Group, 1984. Print.


Marx, Leo, "The Idea of 'Technology' and Postmodern Pessimism," Does technology drive history?: the dilemma of technological determinism(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994).

Emily Fuerst




The Cybernetic and Politics
Kassie Barroquillo

In both Snow Crash and Neuromancer feature a radically-changed government. While I watch the elections polls coming in, I wonder how technology is at play in this election. Some of it is obvious: I am watching on a television. I am keeping track of the Indiana senate results on my computer, using Google. I am using my phone to peek at my social media, watching what my friends have to say on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Clearly, how we view our government is changing, especially during critical times like elections and natural disasters. What other changes, which are radically different, could make a difference in our government?

In 2008, CNN used a hologram during the election. Jessica Yellin, a reporter, was in Chicago and was featured as a hologram on the CNN set to talk about the mood in Chicago. Yes, it was a gimmick. It really seemed silly, so why did they do it? Technology is exciting; of course they are going to use what they can to garner more viewers.

An incredibly realistic hologram of Tupac Shakur was revealed at Coachella and it left people excited for more. According to a yahoo.com report, a hologram of Ronald Reagan was apparently going to be used during the Republican National Convention. The article states that the hologram would have been used outside of the convention at the Lakeland Center.

It was later recommended the hologram wait to be revealed. People were concerned the hologram would overshadow Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. They were worried about Romney’s “energy,” especially because Romney had not announced his Paul Ryan as his running mate (Pfeiffer).

Another reason the team said they did not unveil the hologram because they did not want the hologram to be seen for “partisan purposes” (Pfeiffer). What would happen if holograms became the norm in political campaigning?

*Sidenote – The Daily Show is currently airing a “hologram George Washington.” Best timing ever!

An article on bigthink.com approached the possibility of political holograms and an even more advanced program of political avatars. Political avatars are unique because they can do more than just show snippets of previously recorded video; political avatars can say virtually anything you type into the computer. Speaking of this new technology, Basulto said, “The possibilities are endless – including the possibility that political opponents could counter-program a Ronald Reagan to start spouting the latest liberal orthodoxy”. This could be incredibly detrimental for campaigns, as once beloved characters make appearances never before thought possible.

References
Basulto, Dominic. "Big Think." How Virtual Avatars Could Disrupt Politics. N.p., 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://bigthink.com/endless-innovation/how-virtual-avatars-could-disrupt-politics>.
Hooper119. "Hologram Ronald Reagan @ 2012 Republican National Convention."YouTube. YouTube, 31 Aug. 2012. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dbyAZrY1S8>.
News, Eric Pfeiffer, Yahoo! "Reagan Hologram Is Real, Was Planned for RNC Debut."Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/reagan-hologram-real-planned-rnc-debut-203919642--election.html>.
Snowbee001. "CNN High-Tech Star Wars Hologram Election Coverage." YouTube. YouTube, 04 Nov. 2008. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irGBz5HUpWM>.

Trans-humanism in Neuromancer

By Eric Cruet

Trans-humanism, also known as h+, is an intellectual and cultural movement that advocates the use of technology to enhance the human condition and extend our life span. Although attempts to extend our existence are not new, the origins of trans-humanism can be traced back through Renaissance to antiquity. Thought leaders in the field, Marvin Minsky, and Bruce Sterling among them, look at existing and emerging technologies for creative and innovative uses in overcoming fundamental human limitations. Also considered part of the movement are the ethical issues regarding the applicability and propriety of these for human use.
We are not talking of gadgets like smartphones and chrome-books, but strategic, longer term tech that could help eliminate disease, provide cheap but quality products to the poor and improve general quality of life and health for all, regardless of social status or economic condition. Ideally, it would be transparent, blending into its environment, but noticeable if unavailable.
The following list of technologies advocated by trans-humanism were also used in William Gibson's Neuromancer:

1. Artificial General Intelligence: As demonstrated by IBM’s Watson, artificial general intelligence refers to AIs that display open-ended learning and similar competency levels to human beings. Neuromancer is an AI with a hardware identity that is located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
2. Mind Uploading: also known as non-biological intelligence and neural implanting, it deals with the concept that cognitive processing can be implemented externally. The recent construction of the world’s first brain prosthesis –an artificial copy of the hippocampus –seems to advance this theory. In Neuromancer, the Dixie Flatline ROM Construct serves as the primary example for brain uploading. Another way some of the characters – Panther Moderns - interchangeably uploaded knowledge, languages and skills into their brains were by using “Microsoft’s”.
3. Mega-scale Engineering and Space Colonization: Similar to Freeside, a space station shaped like a spindle Bernal sphere constructed in high orbit, the concept refers to building exceptionally large structures of 1,000 km in length in one dimension. Space colonization is closely related to trans-humanism through the mutual association of futurist philosophy, but also more directly because the embrace of trans-humanism will be necessary to colonize space. Human beings aren’t designed to live in space. Our physiological issues with it are manifold, from deteriorating muscle mass to uncontrollable flatulence. The proposed solution is to conform the body to space or cosmoform as opposed to conform the space to earth or terraform since it is more practical statistically.
4.Cybernetics: A modern example of the incorporation of cybernetics into human organisms (CYBORG) is a cochlear implant. The process of cyborgization has already been happening for centuries if not millennia, since the advent of clothing and piercings. For many generations, but especially in the last couple decades, our technological gadgets have been getting smaller, more functional, and more closely integrated with our natural activity. Certain features, such as vision enhancements or technological actuators like retractable knives, likes the ones used by Molly in Gibson’s novel, will be carefully camouflaged, as to not stand out in public.
5. Genetic Engineering: Also known as gene therapy, this methodology will be utilized to replace defective genes and selectively control gene expression. For example, by manipulating genes that code for certain metabolic proteins, scientists have been able to keep mice slim no matter how much food they eat. Experiments have also demonstrated the use of gene therapy to cure Lou Gehrig’s disease in mice, and it could only be a few years before we develop a therapy that can cure it in humans. It was used to extend Julie’s life, repaired Case’s nervous system, and create organic prosthetics in the novel.
How is the word Neuromancer morphologically related to genetics?
neuromancer/Tbx20 (nmr) genes are cardiac T-box transcription factors that are evolutionarily conserved from flies to humans. Along with other known congenital heart disease genes, including tinman/Nkx2–5, dorsocross/Tbx5/6, and pannier/Gata4/6, they are important for specification and morphogenesis of the embryonic heart.


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Who will be in the next Neuromancer film?

Gibson, W. (2000). Neuromancer. Ace Trade.Graham, E. (2002). ‘Nietzsche gets a modem’: Transhumanism and the technological sublime. Literature and Theology, 16(1), 65-80.Agar, N. (2007). Whereto Transhumanism?: The Literature Reaches a Critical Mass. Hastings Center Report, 37(3), 12-17.