Monday, January 28, 2008

Say it With Me, Frankenstein is a novel, not a real incident

In reading Chapter 14, I was struck by something almost immediately, there is no argument. For Ms. Barnes, who has obviously done her research, there is only one conclusion augmenting the human brain without the body destroys the individual. While this is not a new sentiment, it is a little confusing as to how she reaches this conclusion as one minute she's talking about Cartesian perception and the next we're shattering human personalities by adapting them to the computers.

Her use of Margaret Mead's observations is very astute and it has the ring of reality to it. How are we to perceive a virtual reality when it only focuses on vision and hearing. Touch, at the time of Barnes' writing, was an as yet unexplored ability of cyberspace. While it is still a far off possibility today, advances have been with the recent announcement of a monkey using it's brain power to make a robot walk, how far off will a computer being able to feed us virtual weights and textures?

However, the most unnerving thing for me in the entire reading was when Barnes says, "Despite the fact they work with digital software instead of living wetware, this research is still clouded by the legacy of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein." (p. 237). While she goes to explicate that that the book is indeed a story of science gone awry, the implication is that this one book forever overshadows any attempts at creating new life. It acts as if that one book has instilled this innate fear of cyborgs into everyone.

In the end, I can't help but feel that Barnes piece reads as an alarmist piece of work, saying "Stop now, before we destroy our humanity," more than a piece examining the implications of artificial life. The conclusions are gone, abandon all hope and look elsewhere.

An interesting aside to this is that Barnes ideas are heavily mirrored in Sci-Fi, specifically in the British Sci-Fi Television series Doctor Who. In the series there are two robotic aliens the Doctor fights, the Cybermen and the Daleks. The Cybermen, created in 1967, were humans who spent their lives augmenting their bodies to preserve their lives. Somewhere along the line, the augmentations took over the body and many of the humans went crazy. So they developed an emotionally inhibitor that would stop them from feeling the coldness and loneliness of being a living brain encased in a metal body. Without emotions, they became mindless automonatons and lacked any real sense of individuality. The machine destroying the individual.

The Daleks, created in 1963, were once human in shape bu,t due to radiation, became mutated and disfigured. Over time they built metal cases to live in but cut themselves off, physically, from reality all data coming from extensions of their bodies on the metal shell. Eventually they too went crazy from the detachment and lost their sense of individuality and became machines who wanted to destroy all that was not like them.

1 comment:

Lance Strate said...

You're right that there is a theme of technophobia that runs through a significant number of science fiction narratives. In defense of Sue Barnes, she was trying to counter the prevailing technophilic tendencies in our culture to celebrate new technologies without making any critical assessment.