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          <h5>Tuesday, January 28, 2003</h5>
               <font size="1">posted <a name="90248174"><a> <a href="../archive/2003_01_28_archive.asp#90248174" class="small">10:29 PM</a></font><br>	 
 the Tupperware yawns wider still, and PATTERN RECOGNITION's "pub date" 
looms (which sounds like having a pint or two down the Hog And Grommet 
with that nice girl from Accounting, but isn't)  I find myself starting 
to have that I Don't Have A Life feeling. Pre-tour angst. As of next 
Monday I will be on tour. So, in an effort to cut myself some slack from
 the few precious civilian days remaining, I 'm opting to post the 
following talk, which I gave last year at the Vancouver Art Gallery. VAG
 had mounted an ambitious if oddly titled (The Uncanny) show around the 
theme of "the cyborg". Since this seemed to be "the cyborg" as academics
 understand "the cyborg", and not just a cyborg, or cyborgs, as you or I
 might understand cyborg(s) I took it upon myself to lower the tone of 
the proceedings with the following. I really couldn't get much of a read
 on how it was recieved, but I figured these people were used to keeping
 their cards pretty close to their chests. Meeting some of them did help
 me, though, later, with the character of Dorotea.<br /><br />It's
 long, as blog-entries go, and is probably way too basic for most of 
you, but maybe someone will find it of some interest. This is the first 
time it's appeared anywhere (and very likely the last). Meanwhile, I'll 
have a little extra time to pretend I don't have to go on a book tour. 
(Don't worry. Once I'm out there, I get all too into it.) <br /><br />MY TALK ABOUT "THE CYBORG":<br /><br />The
 first intimations of the cyborg, for me, were the robots in a 1940 
Republic serial called THE MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN. These robots had been 
recycled from the earlier UNDERSEA KINGDOM, 1936, and would appear again
 in the brilliantly-titled ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE, 1952. I have 
those dates and titles not because I’m any sort of expert on Republic 
serials, or even on science fiction in general, but because I’ve 
bookmarked Google.  But we’ll get back to Google later.<br /><br />THE
 MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN was among my earliest cinematic experiences. I 
probably saw it in 1952, and I definitely saw it on a television whose 
cabinet was made out of actual wood, something that strikes me today as 
wholly fantastic. These Republic cliffhangers, made originally for 
theatrical release, one episode at a time, were recycled in the Fifties 
for local broadcast in the after-school slot, after half an hour of 
black and white Hollywood cartoons.<br /><br />I
 can remember being utterly terrified by Dr. Satan’s robots, which had 
massive tubular bodies, no shoulders, hands like giant Visegrip pliers, 
and limbs made of some sort of flexible metal tubing. They had been on 
the job since 1936, which contributed strongly to the weirdness of their
 design-language, but I had no way of knowing that. I just knew that 
they were the scariest thing I’d ever seen, ever, and I could barely 
stand to watch them menace the hero or his girlfriend. <br /><br />I
 wonder now what I knew about robots. That they were called “robots”, 
and were “mechanical men”. That these particular robots were the 
servants of Dr. Satan. Did I believe that they were autonomous, or that 
Dr. Satan controlled them? Probably the latter, as menacing-robot scenes
 in serials of this sort often involved a sort of telepresence, and the 
suggest of remote control. Cut from robot, menacing, to evil scientist 
in his lab, watching robot menace on television screen. Evil scientist 
closes giant knife-switch, which causes robot to menace even harder.<br /><br />Given
 that I was watching this material in the early Fifties, I would shortly
 become familiar with the expression “electronic brain”, which like 
“rocket ship” was there as a marker of something anticipated but not yet
 here. Actually, it already was here, and had been since World War II, 
but most people didn’t know it yet. And that is where postwar science 
fiction, in retrospect, got it most broadly wrong: all eyes were on the 
rocket ship, relatively few on the electronic brain. We all know, today,
 which one’s had the greater impact.<br /><br />An
 electronic brain. What would you do with one of those, if you had one? 
 In 1940, you’d probably stick it in a machine of some kind. Not one of 
Dr. Satan’s recycled Atlantean robots, but something practical. Say a 
machine that could weld leaf-springs in a Milwaukee tractor factory. <br /><br />This,
 really, is about what science fiction writers call “Steam Engine Time”.
 The observable fact that steam, contained, exerts force, has been 
around since the first lid rattled as the soup came to a boil. The 
ancient Greeks built toy steam engines that whirled brass globes. But 
you won’t get a locomotive ‘til it’s Steam Engine Time. <br /><br />What
 you wouldn’t do, in 1940, with an electronic brain, would be to stick 
it on your desk, connect it somehow to a typewriter, and, if you, had 
one, a television of the sort demonstrated at the 1939 Worlds fair in 
New York.  At which point it would start to resemble… But it’s not Steam
 Engine Time yet, so you can’t do that.  Although you would, or anyway 
you’d think about it, if you were a man named Vannevar Bush, but we’ll 
come back to him later. Vannevar Bush almost single-handedly invented 
what we now think of as the military-industrial complex. He did that for
 Franklin Roosevelt, but it isn’t what he’ll be remembered for.<br /><br />I
 can’t remember a robot ever scaring me that much, after DR. SATAN’s 
robots.  They continued to be part of the cultural baggage of sf, but 
generally seemed rather neutral, at least to me. Good or bad depending 
on who was employing them in a given narrative. Isaac Asimov wrote a 
whole shelf of novels working out a set of hard-wired ethics for 
intelligent robots, but I never got into them. The tin guys didn’t, by 
the Sixties, seem to me to be what was interesting in science fiction, 
and neither did space ships. It was what made Asimov’s robots 
intelligent in the first place that would have interested me, had I 
thought of it, but I didn’t. <br /><br />What
 interested me most in the sf of the 60s was the investigation of the 
politics of perception, some of which, I imagine, could now be seen in 
retrospect as having been approached through various and variously 
evolving ideas of the cyborg. Stories about intelligent rocket ships and
 how humans might interact with them, or stories of humans forced 
through circumstances to become the non-electronic brain in an otherwise
 traditional robot. A sort of projection was underway, an exploration of
 boundaries.  And meanwhile, out in the world, the cyborg was arriving. 
Or continuing to arrive.<br /><br />Though
 not in science fiction’s sense of the cyborg, which was that of a 
literal and specific human-machine hybrid.  There’s a species of 
literalism in our civilization that tends to infect science fiction as 
well: it’s easier to depict the union of human and machine literally, 
close-up on the cranial jack please, than to describe the true and daily
 and largely invisible nature of an all-encompassing embrace<br /><br />The
 real cyborg, cybernetic organism in the broader sense, had been busy 
arriving as I watched DR. SATAN on that wooden television in 1952. I was
 becoming a part of something, in the act of watching that screen. We 
all were. We are today. The human species was already in process of 
growing itself an extended communal nervous system, then, and was doing 
things with it that had previously been impossible: viewing things at a 
distance, viewing things that had happened in the past, watching dead 
men talk and hearing their words. What had been absolute limits of the 
experiential world had in a very real and literal way been profoundly 
and amazingly altered, extended, changed.  And would continue to be. And
 the real marvel of this was how utterly we took it all for granted.<br /><br />Science
 fiction’s cyborg was a literal chimera of meat and machine. The world’s
 cyborg was an extended human nervous system: film, radio, broadcast 
television, and a shift in perception so profound that I believe we’re 
yet to understand it. Watching television, we each became aspects of an 
electronic brain. We became augmented. In the Eighties, when Virtual 
Reality was the buzzword, we were presented with images of…television! 
If the content is sufficiently engrossing, however, you don’t need 
wraparound deep-immersion goggles to shut out the world. You grow your 
own. You are there. Watching the content you most want to see, you see 
nothing else. <br /><br />The
 physical union of human and machine, long dreaded and long anticipated,
 has been an accomplished fact for decades, though we tend not to see 
it. We tend not to see it because we are it, and because we still employ
 Newtonian paradigms that tell us that “physical” has only to do with 
what we can see, or touch. Which of course is not the case. The 
electrons streaming into a child’s eye from the screen of the wooden 
television are as physical as anything else. As physical as the neurons 
subsequently moving along that child’s optic nerves. As physical as the 
structures and chemicals those neurons will encounter in the human 
brain. We are implicit, here, all of us, in a vast physical construct of
 artificially linked nervous systems. Invisible. We cannot touch it. <br /><br />We are it. We are already the Borg, but we seem to need myth to bring us to that knowledge.<br /><br />Steam
 Engine Time. Somewhere in the late Seventies. In garages, in 
California. Putting the electronic brain on the table. Doing an end run 
around Dr. Asimov’s ethical robots. The arms and legs, should you 
require them, are mere peripherals. To any informed contemporary child, a
 robot is simply a computer being carried around by its peripherals. 
Actually I think this accounts for the generally poor sales of several 
recent generations of commercial humanoid robots; they’re all more than a
 little embarrassing, at some level. Sony’s Aibo, a robot dog, does 
slightly better in the market. Who today wouldn’t simply prefer to have a
 faster and more powerful computer, faster internet access? That’s where
 the action is. That augmentation. Of the user. Of us.<br /><br />Actually
 the return of those humanoid robots has disappointed me. I’d thought 
that everyone had gotten it: that you don’t need to go anthropocentric 
in order to get work done. That in fact you get less work done, far less
 bang for your buck, if you do. My idea of an efficient robot today 
would be an American Predator drone with Hellfire missiles, or one of 
the fly-sized equivalents allegedly on Pentagon CAD-CAM screens if not 
already in the field. Though actually those are both cyborgs, or 
borg-aspects, as they are capable both of autonomous actions and actions
 via telepresent control. When the human operator uplinks, operator and 
Predator constitute a cyborg. Bruce Sterling wrote a short story, in the
 early Eighties, in which the protagonists were the Soviet equivalents 
of Predator drones, but literal cyborgs: small fighter aircraft 
controlled by brain-in-bottle on-board pilots, with very little left in 
the way of  bodies.  But why, today, bother building those (unless of 
course to provide the thrill of piloting to someone who might otherwise 
not experience it, which would be a worthy goal in my view). But for 
purely military purposes, without that live meat on board, aircraft are 
capable of executing maneuvers at speeds that would kill a human being. 
The next generation of US fighter aircraft, for this and other tactical 
reasons, will almost certainly be physically unmanned. <br /><br />Martian
 jet lag. That’s what you get when you operate one of those little Radio
 Shack wagon/probes from a comfortable seat back at an airbase in 
California. Literally. Those operators were the first humans to 
experience Martian jet lag. In my sense of things, we should know their 
names: first humans on the Red Planet. Robbed of recognition by that 
same old school of human literalism.<br /><br />This
 is the sort of thing that science fiction, traditionally, is neither 
good at predicting, nor, should we predict it, at describing. <br /><br />Vannever
 Bush, who I mentioned earlier, was not a science fiction writer. In 
World War II he was chief scientific adviser to Franklin Roosevelt, and 
director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, where he 
supervised the work that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. He more
 or less invented the military-industrial complex, as we call it today. 
In 1945 he published an article in the ATLANTIC MONTHLY titled “As We 
May Think”. In this article he imagined a system he called the “memex”, 
short for “memory extender”. If there was a more eerily prescient piece 
of prose, fiction or otherwise, written in the first half the 20th 
Century, I don’t know it.<br /><br />
 This article is remembered most often, today, for having first 
envisioned what we call the principle of “hyperlinking”, a means of 
connecting disparate but conceptually involved units of data. But I’ve 
never read it that way, myself. I think Vannevar Bush envisioned the 
cyborg, in the sense I’ve been suggesting we most valuably use that 
word. <br /><br />One
 remarkable thing about this is that he seemed to have no particular 
idea that electronics would have anything to do with it. He begins by 
imagining an engineer, a technocrat figure, equipped with a 
“walnut-sized” (his phrase) camera, which is strapped to the center of 
his forehead, it’s shutter operated by a hand-held remote. The 
technocrat’s glasses are engraved with crosshairs. If he can see it, he 
can photograph it.<br /><br />Bush
 imagines this as a sort of pre-Polaroid microfilm device, “dry 
photography” he calls it, and he imagines his technocrat snapping away 
at project-sites, blueprints, documents, as he works.<br /><br />He
 then imagines the memex itself, a desk (oak, he actually suggests, 
reminding me of my television set in 1952) with frosted glass screens 
inset in its top, on which the user can call up those images previously 
snapped with that forehead-walnut. Also in the desk are all of the 
user’s papers, business records, etc., all stored as instantly 
retrievable microfiche, plus the contents of whole specialized 
libraries.<br /><br />At
 this point, Bush introduces the idea which earns him his place in 
conventional histories of computing: the idea of somehow marking 
“trails” through the data, a way of navigating, of being able to 
backtrack. The hyperlink idea.<br /><br />But
 what I see, when I look at Bush’s engineer, with his Polaroid walnut 
and his frosted-glass, oak-framed desktop, is the cyborg. In both 
senses. A creature of Augmented rather than Virtual Reality. He is…us! 
As close to the reality of being us, today, as anyone in 1945 (or 
perhaps in 1965, for that matter) ever managed to get! Bush didn’t have 
the technology to put beneath the desktop, so he made do with what he 
knew, but he’s describing the personal computer. He’s describing, with 
an accuracy of prediction that still gives me goose-bumps, how these 
devices with be used. How the user’s memory with be augmented, and 
connected to whole Borgesian libraries, searchable and waiting. Google! 
The memex, awaiting the engineer’s search-string!<br /><br />But
 in our future, awaiting the interconnectedness of desktops. Awaiting 
the net. Bush didn’t see that, that we’d link memex’s, and create 
libraries in common. Steam Engine Time: he couldn’t go there, though he 
got closer than anyone else, in his day, to getting it.<br /><br />There’s
 my cybernetic organism: the internet. If you accept that “physical” 
isn’t only the things we can touch, it’s the largest man-made object on 
the planet, or will be, soon: it’s outstripping the telephone system, or
 ingesting it, as I speak. And we who participate in it are physically a
 part of it. The Borg we are becoming.<br /><br />So
 for me the sci-fi cyborg, the meat/metal hybrid, is already another of 
those symbols, somewhat in the way that Dr. Satan’s robots had their 
origin, as symbols, in a Czech satirist’s view of alienated labor. The 
real deal is that which we already participate in daily, meld with, grow
 into.<br /><br />The
 big news in biology this week was the announcement that we’ve stopped 
evolving, in the biological sense. I’ll buy that. Technology has stopped
 us, and technology will take us on, into a new evolution, one Mr. Bush 
never dreamed of, and neither, I’m sure, have I.<br /><br />Interface
 evolves toward transparency. The one you have to devote the least 
conscious effort to, survives, prospers. This is true for interface 
hardware as well, so that the cranial jacks and brain inserts and bolts 
in the neck, all the transitional sci-fi hardware of the sci-fi cyborg, 
already looks slightly quaint. The real cyborg, the global organism, is 
so splendidly invasive that these things already seem medieval. They 
fascinate, much as torture instruments do, or reveal erotic 
possibilities to the adventurous, or beckon as stages or canvasses for 
the artist, but I doubt that very many of us will ever go there. The 
real cyborg will be deeper and more subtle and exist increasingly at the
 particle level, in a humanity where unaugmented reality will eventually
 be a hypothetical construct, something we can only try, with great 
difficulty, to imagine -- as we might try, today, to imagine a world 
without electronic media.<br /><br />         <br /><br /><br /><br>

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               <font size="1">posted <a name="90244012"><a> <a href="../archive/2003_01_28_archive.asp#90244012" class="small">6:28 AM</a></font><br>	 
          THE MATRIX: FAIR COP<br /><br />I
 was, as you can probably imagine, prepared not to like THE MATRIX. A 
friend finally dragged me to see it in Santa Monica, when I was taping 
NO MAPS FOR THESE TERRITORIES.<br /><br />I liked it a lot. I even went back to see it a second time in theatrical release, which is unusual for me. <br /><br />I
 thought it was more like Dick’s work than mine, though more coherent, 
saner, than I generally take Dick to have been. A Dickian universe with 
fewer moving parts (for Dick, I suspect, all of the parts were, always, 
moving parts). A Dickian universe with a solid bottom (or for the one 
film at least, as there’s no way of knowing yet where the franchise is 
headed). It’s thematically gnostic, something NEUROMANCER isn’t.<br /><br />Whatever
 of my work may be there, it seems to me to have gotten there by exactly
 the kind of creative cultural osmosis I’ve always depended on myself. 
and DHALGREN in NEUROMANCER, and much else besides, down to and 
including actual bits of embarrassingly undigested gristle. And while I 
was drawing directly from those originals, and many others, the makers 
of THE MATRIX were drawing through a pre-existing “cyberpunk” esthetic, 
which constituted as much of a found object, for them, as “science 
fiction” did for me. From where they were, they had the added luxury of 
choosing bits from, say, Billy Idol’s “Neuromancer” as well. <br /><br />When
 I began to write NEUROMANCER, there was no “cyberpunk”. THE MATRIX is 
arguably the ultimate “cyberpunk” artifact. Or will be, if the sequels 
don’t blow. I hope they don’t, and somehow have a hunch they won’t, but 
I’m glad I’m not the one who has to worry about it. <br /><br />The
 other thing I’m glad of is that a film of NEUROMANCER, whatever else I 
might want it to be, definitely doesn’t, now, have to be THE MATRIX, or 
even anything very much like it. <br /><br />AN END TO CYBERPUNK?<br /><br />Someone asks if I might please put an end to it.  <br /><br />Would
 that I could, but it just doesn't work that way.  "Cyberpunk", which 
you'll note I put in quotes or not, as the irony level in my bloodstream
 fluctuates, has a life of its own. Has in fact been possessed of a 
stubborn vitality since it first hove into view circa 1981.  At this 
late stage of the game, though, my belief is that, outside of a certain 
narrow discourse in literary history, its best use today is as an 
indicator of a particular generic flavor in pop culture. In the way that
 "cowboy" functions in "cowboy boots", which generally has nothing to do
 with anyone, particularly the wearer of the boots in question, being 
any kind of cowboy.  "That's kind of a cyberpunk video." We all know 
what the speaker means. <br /><br>

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