Location: Scarlet Tiers of The Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority
Image credit: "Hangars Liquides" by Ka Rasmuson at Flickr
Finishing Neuromancer for perhaps the fifth or sixth time, I am still stuck with a question that I put to my class earlier today:
What would motivate you to merge with a machine? To put in a neural implant so you could interface with data as surely as Case?
Gibson projected doing that with electrodes glued to our scalps, something that seems as quaint to me today as all of his mentions of magnetic tape in what may be the year 2030. We won't need electrodes if we ever do develop a brain-hardware interface: we know a great deal more today about neuroscience than we did in 1984. Over at New World Notes, Wagner James Au occasionally reports on interfaces that permit the blind or paralyzed to manipulate data. In a silly way, his recent post on a novel use of Xbox Kinect shows that the drive to merge meat and mind online hasn't abated.
I suspect we will make the technological, neurological, and moral leap one day to do far more. On a bad day, when I'm very tired, I think "well, I'm glad I won't live that long." On better days, I hope to try something like that, if only as a "tourist."
On the other hand, there's a danger with any sufficiently advanced technology: it might make us think we are gods who work magic. That's the dark corollary of the third of Clarke's Laws for you.
I don't know if my students, many of them having had their heads spun round by this important and very confusing book, understand that this novel reaches for a big theme. Gibson wants us to ponder a few things it seems:
- What is "human"?
- What do we lose as we gain power through cybernetic prostheses?
- Would we take the chance to become immortal if we could? Would we dare NOT take it?
We may all live to know if such an offer awaits us. Before writing this post, I never realized that Arthur C. Clarke postulated three laws. The second is worth noting here:
"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."
Gibson's fiction, always venturing past those limits, will retain its cultural significance as the rest of us follow in his wake.