Mythemes of the singularity
Ignorant was I that the singularity is more than just human consciousness in machines in fact its the moment that machine intelligence tips out of the nice normal line called linearity and begins to reproduce along the ragged edges of nonlinearity. Its when we have to take machines as an ethnicity, as a culture, and not as tools and extensions of ourselves. If science fiction is anything to go by, we’ll be wearing them as suits.
My adolescence was marked by the film Ghost in a Shell. We snuck down to the ol’ art film house theater thing and listened to a hyper active hipster charm us while popping popcorn. The film hit right at that point where the teenage brain is open to wonder and full of immense existential loneliness and suicidal despair. Houston was a hot house of alienated locations and the peculiar silence of the film took me in as did the bosom young woman that filled the screen. It’s story though was one of human intelligence escaping the meat bag existence of the everyday by merging with a virtual construct. In those days the idea of escaping middle school’s hellish haunts for the world on the other end of a PC screen would have been a dream come true. I dreamed in Dark Forces, lived in Full Throttle, the idea of any of these computer entities reaching out to me, was relief, after all their escapism was one of the few ways of avoiding the pain of adolescence.
In the game Crysis 2, pictured above, we have a slightly different vision of cybernetics since Ghost in the Shell appeared. Despite the fact that nano-materials can make a man jump 3 meters, or dissipate (similar to Ghost actually), Crysis doesn’t allow electronics to obtrude into the body itself. The suits are just like skins the soldiers wear over their body, some type of jack appears to make a link with them. In Ghost in the Shell cybernetics have made their way into the body, they protrude from eye sockets, levitate fingers, and turn skin into invisibility, flesh has been liberated and bodies can take on alternative forms.
Outside of the body are other minds. In the case of ghost in the shell the author has performed a clever conceit: he thought out the desires of an artificial intelligence and found an unusual one. By the time we reach Crysis the idea of consciousnesses melding together or the fusion of man and machine has become second nature. Crysis does manage, by using the ghost in the nanosuit’s shell to produce a main character with out you actually playing as one, which is an impressive trick in a game, but the geist of the idea has already been used, its become cyberpunk folklore. What happens when one hacker gives another hacker the brain chip from a dead hacker? Prepared to get haunted!
Prophet haunts the old suit. His voice weaves in and out of the system’s various warnings. But more than anything Prophet is an entity, the real hero, the person who should be fighting this war, it just happens he’s dead. A cinematic protagonist haunts the video game Crysis 2, the actual character we play as, Alcatraz, has little to no back story. In this folktale of the singularity the self is software and is so diminutive as to be stored easily in the memory of armor.
I love this idea of back ups. Rows of purchasable selves at the supermarket, upgrade to Angelina Jolie, download Johnny Depp via steam, the self in the singularity is a plastic fluid, it runs through walls, through wires, is stuffed in spare ram caches, and distributes itself on numerous servers, the self is not a commodity in Ghost in the Shell or Crysis 2. Although I would like to hear a story about a hacker that manages to reproduce via amazon. The self supersedes the market, never ends up on amazon or your local app market, it’s always mercurial and pours through technology like a ghost. We don’t want to be captured in the machine. Technology is capable of storing selves and producing artificial ones equal to humanity, but a self necessitates a certain autonomy, one that your amazon identity upgrade lacks.
Dog is nothing more than an example of logos as subservient. He is obedient to his human masters. It is only that little bit of other, his affection for Alex, his post-natural senses, that suggest dog’s ascent to a higher level of consciousness. Part of what makes him spectacular is the way Valve plays with the idea of dog as other, he never quite becomes comprehensible to us, but his affection makes him reliable. It’s just that dog is actually autonomous however he’s emotional. Dog’s emotions leash him to Alex and Gordon, hence his non-human intelligence can run free. Unlike the suit in Crysis which envelopes the wearer and transforms him, Dog is not a creepy singularity, or even one with a ghost to spare, he’s actually quite cute and adorable, but rather clever too. His autonomy makes him seem like something above the market, we don’t get the feeling that dog is purchasable, rather he’s evolved from a symbiotic love with Alex. Life can not come from capital in other words, even the a.i. that hunts down Kusanagi was a result of government programs and not corporations. The artificial selves that run down Gibson’s transmission lines are outside corporate control.
The singularity is a mytheme of the self, a modern day way of throwing our desires before the market that engulfs us. The self is always romantic, out of control, impassioned, even illogical. Dog runs ahead of our understanding, Crysis sucks up our understanding and reproduces it, Kusanagi melds with technological selves. At heart this passing down of identity suggests that the singularity is in reality a massive advance in ethnicity. Machines become part of endogamy Alcatraz and Prophet are engaged in a weird three some with their nanosuit, Kusanagi virtually marries an A.I., Gibson’s internet selves eventually find bodies, everyone transcends the human by marrying a machine.
But the emergence into endogamy means that machines have to learn affection and then that affection has to be enough to be trusted, but what happens to a machine that loves humans? Does it wither away its days wishing for flesh? Does it become like dog, lower because it loves so? Will machines love us so much they will beg to be subserveint?
Entry filed under: media.