Friday, January 31, 2014

Questions & Comments on Zork & Neuromancer, Week II

Post your questions/thoughts as comments to this post.  Again:  a paragraph is fine, or a couple if you feel so moved.  You are posting on a question, problem or topic of your choice.  Citing a particular passage is recommended but not required.

Revision Instructions

These instructions are a reminder/update of what’s going on for the next couple weeks.
First, just so everyone is clear - there is no regular essay due next week. You should be working on your revisions instead. These revisions will be due by Saturday, February 15th at 8:00 a.m. (this time isn’t a joke, incidentally - I’m just trying to give you as much time as I possibly can before I start grading).
We will continue to discuss revisions in detail next week, and possibly the next class as well. There are also many details on the syllabus. But as a reminder, here are the basics.
  1. You are expanding, rewriting, or reimagining one of your earlier essays. While you should pay attention to my advice and the advice of others, your goal should be neither to minimize your work nor to slavishly follow comments, but to present your best work, where your focus will be your argument. You should do much more work than you would for a weekly essay, but I am not expecting lengthy papers - 5 good pages is the minimum, with at least 2 of those being wholly new writing.
  2. Using at least one outside academic source is required. You need to cite your source(s) accurately, although I will not penalize you for, e.g., incorrect formatting in your bibliography. You should use Pitt’s library (physical or digital) for your research. We will briefly discuss citation in our next class.
  3. Using literary criticism is an obvious strategy, but it would be easy enough to fit in sources from other disciplines - Biology, Psychology, Philosophy, etc. If the source(s) is/are academic, and you are citing them, that’s the minimum requirement. Note the links at the bottom of the post!
  4. I will discuss at least 1 or 2 of your essays in class next week, so I’m looking for volunteers. If you want us to discuss your work (and you should - it’s a very helpful process), send me a link to the one you want to discuss, or email me the version you have started to revise, before our next class.
  5. The following links summarize my position on plagiarism, the English departments position, and give you an introduction to the MLA citation method. Other methods of citation are fine also! The MLA is just the default for this class - not a requirement.
I am also giving you a link to the MLA Bibliography, on Pitt’s digital library (you may need to be on campus, or to log in remotely to the digital library, to access it). For research in literary criticism, this is the usual starting point. For instance, you might load the bibliography, then conduct a search on “Frankenstein” to see the wealth of research which is open to you.

Plagiarism and Citation: 

my summary


Pitt’s English Department

MLA Citation:

Purdue’s Page

MLA Bibliography:

via Ebsco

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Let's discuss this essay

Cyberpunk in Zork and Neuromancer

William Gibson’s Neuromancer written in 1984 created a new sub-genre of science fiction referred to as “cyberpunk” or also called, “speculative fiction.”  This genre centered on “the transformative effect of advanced science, information technology, computers and networks (‘cyber’) coupled with a breakdown or radical change in the social order (‘punk’)” ( Neuromancer epitomizes this definition and indeed sparks speculation of the reader in all of its cyberpunk elements. Questions regarding the plot, the people, the language and terminology, places, and the sequence of events arise while reading the novel. The same questions are speculated while playing one of the earliest interactive fiction video games, Zork. Neuromancer and Zork have created their own culture and cultural nihilism, which categorize both in the speculative genre “cyberpunk” fiction.
            A gamer begins the video game, Zork, as a nameless character. In the game, the player only sees a black screen with white text to navigate the nameless adventurer through to reach the end of the game. The black screen and absence of any imagery of the adventurer makes it difficult for the human player to contextualize who the virtual player is and any characteristics of the player. Similarly is the ambiguity of the main character in Neuromancer. There is provided enough information to understand whom the main character is, Case, but beyond that the reader has little background information of the character. Only through the plot, sequence of events and interactions with other ambiguous characters can the reader formulate some kind of idea of the humanistic qualities to attribute to Case. Besides the main character in Zork, there are only a few other “characters” in the video game. These other characters aren’t given very much description at all since the game navigates with little communication. The gamer may run into dangerous creatures, a hateful troll, and/or a thief during the game, but besides the few “interactions” with these characters, there is little detail attributed to them. The other characters in Neuromancer are introduced slightly differently. Many of the characters such as Ratz, Linda Lee, Molly, and Armitage are described with an overload of sci-fi detail and lingo and ambiguous traits that are not conducive of contextualizing a character. Julius Deane for example is not described in a way that aids the reader in understanding him well, “His primary hedge against aging was a yearly pilgrimage to Tokyo, where genetic surgeons re-set the code of his DNA, a procedure unavailable in Chiba. Then he’d fly to Hongkong….” (12). This description continues, but continues in the same way, making it difficult to actually contextualize his character.  The character development in both Zork and Neuromancer sparks speculation and the need for imagination to make sense of the characters.

            The plot of Zork and Neuromancer are very much the definitive “cyberpunk” genre due to the structure of both book and video game. Zork functions and advances by the human player typing commands such as “climb up” and then the virtual character climbs up, and the screen replies to the action in white text with a result, such as, “you cannot climb any higher”. The entire plot progresses in a series of action-result, action-result pattern. Neuromancer is structured in a similar way. The plot seems to be very mangled together. One event, leads to another, and then to another that the reader doesn’t expect to happen.  In this way it, too, is constructed very much like Zork, action-result, action-result. “He bolted across Ninsei, scattering a pack of strolling sailors. One of them screamed after him in Spanish. Then he was throughout the entrance, the sound crashing over him like surf….He cut to the right and loped up a flight of unpainted chipboard stairs…” (17). One idea hops to another, and each event occurs so instantly and end so abruptly that the action-result pattern is difficult to keep up with. Because of this, the reader or player needs to use imagination to connect the points and understand what may be happening in the plot.
            More cultural nihilism and uncertainty stems from the places and settings of both Zork and Neuromancer. The reader or player’s imagination is necessary for both book and game to contextualize what is going on. Zork is played only with short communication and no images, thus understanding the place and surrounding area of the player can seem inconceivable.  To advance in the game the human player needs to use quick and simple commands to direct the virtual player around to capture treasures and meet new characters. At one moment the player is headed west, but meets a dead end, then has to turn around and go south, etc., etc. The commands become confusing and contextualizing the surrounding area and location of the virtual player becomes impossible. Creating a map, as the human player, is necessary to understand where the virtual player is located. Neuromancer is written with obscure and foreign sci-fi jargon that makes it difficult to understand where the characters are at any given point of time. The characters jump from one place to the next so quickly, too, that it difficult to contextualize the place and surrounding area, like Zork. At one point in the novel drawing a map seems to be a logical idea, “The pill lit his circuits and he rode the rush down Shiga to Ninsei, then over to Baiitsu…. A block down Baiitsu, toward the port, stood a featureless ten-story office building in ugly yellow brick….” (19). The unfamiliar names of the places cause difficulty in contextualizing physical places. Yet again, the cyberpunk genre provides the reader and player with ambiguity and speculation.

            The vintage video game, Zork, and the William Gibson novel, Neuromancer are surprisingly similar. The questions that arise while reading Neuromancer and while playing Zork, validate both to be categorized in the sub genre of “cyberpunk.” The scientific jargon, computer science, and use of technological ideas and elements provide ambiguity and constant speculation justifying that the book and video game can be categorized as not just science-fiction but also “cyberpunk.”

Zork and Neuromancer Tone Similarities

            William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a sci-fi novel where the characters enter virtual cyberspace called the “Matrix”, hence creating a digital world very similar to that of videogames. Thus, this is a perfect opportunity to play the 1980 text adventure video game Zork, whose world shares many similarities with that of Neuromancer. By reading Gibson’s novel and playing Zork simultaneously, I was able to better understand Neuromancer, specifically due to their similar adventurous and sarcastic tones.

            First, there is an adventurous tone found within both the realm of Zork and the realm of Neuromancer. For instance, almost immediately when you start the game you encounter a leaflet, and reading it reveals the proclamation: “Zork is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by mortals” (Zork). It is clear that the author of the text is making a point to make Zork sound exciting, especially through words such as “adventure”, “danger” and “amazing”, which all have strong connotations attached to them. The narrator embellishes so much on the excitement of the game that it turns into a strong hyperbole. This, of course, instantly urges the player to play on, creating excitement towards the vast digital world that lies before them and the endless possibilities that lie within it. Also, the word-choice of “mortals” here makes Zork sound like a science fiction game, tying it further into the realm of Neuromancer, a science fiction book. Likewise, Neuromancer has a similar adventurous tone. While at the Hilton, Case picks up a brochure that reads, “FREESIDE – WHY WAIT?” (Gibson 97). Freeside is a city much like Las Vegas that is located inside the Matrix. Instantly, when Freeside is compared to Las Vegas, one would think of not just any adventure, but a wild and crazy one. Since the adventurous Freeside can correlate with the kingdom of Zork, the digital world is much more fast-paced and exciting than our typical reality. The rhetorical question of “why wait?” is a call to action for the character of Case. Being adventurous means taking chances and putting yourself out there. Thus, by going to Freeside, Case is an adventurer. Further, the name “Freeside” itself encourages adventure because the word free makes the subject seem limitless, like anything can happen. At the end of the day, that’s the true essence of adventure.
            In addition to the adventurous tone, there is also a similar underlying sarcastic tone in both Zork and Neuromancer that lightens up the serious mood. For example, when presented with a pile of leaves in Zork, I type in “jump in leaves” and the narrator writes, “Very good. Now you can go to the second grade” (Zork). The sarcastic, biting tone comes off as playful. The responses that the player usually receives are serious ones informing them of their surroundings or how their action affects the gameplay. This sharp contrast embedded with bitter humor will almost surely make the player laugh. After all, it is a game, and a game’s number one purpose is to entertain the player. Similarly, that same desire to lighten the mood and remind you that the digital realm is to be enjoyed is present in Neuromancer when Deane is explaining to Case how the virtual arcade that Case has just escaped was his creation. Deane tells Case, “Oh, and I’m sorry about Linda, in the arcade. I was hoping to speak through her, but I’m generating all this out of your memories, and the emotional charge…Well its very tricky. I slipped. Sorry” (Gibson 119). Once again, the bitingly sarcastic jab at Case lightens up the mood, which was previously serious since Deane was explaining who he was and Case is carrying a loaded weapon. The sarcastic tone is achieved through the ellipses in the beginning of the quotation and the short sentences at the end. When read this way, each word packs an extra punch, making the sarcasm mock Case just as the sarcasm mocks the player in Zork.

            Conclusively, Zork and Neuromancer have adventurous and sarcastic tones that help to make the plot of Neuromancer more clear in relation to Zork. Tone makes a huge difference in a form of entertainment. The tones in Zork and Neuromancer make you want to keep playing and reading, respectively. The tones also relate well to the digital world, which was made for adventure, surprise, suspense, and humor, making players desire to fully immerse themselves into the unknown world.

Works Cited

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
"Play Zork at Iron Realms." The Best MUDs. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.

Humans as Standing-Reserve in Neuromancer

        In Neuromancer, the mentality of human society has become entranced by the essence of technology as defined by Heidegger. In Gibson's world, humans barely manage to stay in control of the constantly advancing modern technology as the essence of technology threatens to commoditize humans entirely. As Heidegger defines it, standing-reserve is anything "ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so it may be called upon for a further ordering" (Heidegger 7-8). Gibson's universe shows how in many instances, from Tessier-Ashpool's business practices to Molly's body modifications to Wintermute's full control of Armitage, that in this world humans have become entirely standing reserve in line with Heidegger's definition.
        Tessier-Ashpool uses humans as a pure commodity. They seem to have become masters of Heidegger's concept of Enframing, that is "the way on which the real reveals itself as standing reserve" (Heidegger 12). They have entirely embraced the unconcealing that "comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as standing-reserve" (Heidegger 10). The Tessier-Ashpool family freeze, clone, and breed themselves to keep the power of their corporation, turning their very lives into standing-reserve to keep the power of their corporation intact. The Finn went so far to speculate about Tessier-Ashpool's cloned ninja: "Probably got him on ice. Thaw when needed" (Gibson 76). This description of a human being is exactly that of standing reserve, "stockpiled; that is, on call" (Heidegger 7) to be used whenever Tessier-Ashpool requires its services.
    Augmentations like Molly's also add humans to the standing-reserve, commoditizing them in subtler ways than Tessier-Ashpool. Molly has chosen to incorporate technological systems into her body to make herself more effective at her job. In Heidegger's terms, Molly has adopted the ordered revealing of technological advancement. However, according to Heidegger, "[o]nly to the extent that man for his part is already challenged to exploit the energies of nature can this ordering revealing happen" (Heidegger 8). Molly is not only bending technology to her needs, but she is being bent by the society that embraces this technology to embrace it herself. Another example of this is Smith, the art dealer that the Finn knows. "With half a dozen chips in his new socket, Smith's knowledge of the art business was formidable, at least by the standards of his colleagues" (Gibson 73). Because Smith had "gone silicon" he was able to compete in the art dealing world. Both Molly and Smith elected to become dependent on technology, but that dependency made them better at Heidegger's ordering revealing.
    Armitage, or Corto, has become a complete commodity, almost losing all of his humanity to the control of Wintermute. Corto had initially been a soldier, part of the literal standing-reserve of the military (Gibson 82). As Corto is eventually taken over by Wintermute by a chip in his brain, he loses his free will and becomes an instrument for Wintermutes plans (Gibson 120). Armitage's entire purpose becomes acting as a vessel for Wintermute, and as an extension the essence of technology, to continue the process of unconcealment and enframing that moves technology forward.
    Wintermute, and the other AI like it, are showing signs of an opposite trajectory to that of humans.  It wants Case to free it from the human restrictions that have been placed upon it. As Dixie puts it, "the minute, I mean nanosecond, that [an AI] starts figuring out ways to make itself smarter, Turing'll wipe it" (Gibson 132). This struggle between man and technology is significant to society because "the will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control" (Heidegger 2). If AI like Wintermute are symbolic of the essence of technology in Neuromancer, then we see why humanity attempts to limit them so definitively and why they are being shackled to keep them in the standing reserve. Humans fear free AI, and gain security knowing they are restricted because "[whatever] stands by in the sense of standing-reserve no longer stands over against us as object" (Heidegger 8). The AI try to take ordering into their own hands, ultimately subjecting humans to their fate as pure standing-reserve.
    Neuromancer shows a world in which humans are being made standing-reserve through modern technology. Tessier-Ashpool, Molly, Armitage and Wintermute are examples of the Enframing that Heidegger warns to be wary of. In this world, humanity has become almost completely relegated, as Heidegger warned, to the standing-reserve.

Works Cited

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. "Question Concerning Technology." Question Concerning Technology. N.p., May 2008. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.

A Definition of Humanity in Neuromancer

               It is a fundamental aspect of science fiction literature to make a statement about how humanity will stand “in our advanced but confused state of knowledge”. Neuromancer by William Gibson makes an attempt to define humanity in an age of technology that blurs the classic definition, while “Cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode” for a majority of the high-conflict and revealing scenes (Aldiss). With the conflict surrounding a fundamentally anti-human Alternative Intelligence, the inherent differences between the AI and humans reveals Gibson’s attempt at defining humanity.

               The interplay of the nefarious company of characters that the first half of the novel follows is one of the ways that Gibson tries to define humanity. Case, the console cowboy (hacker) and severe addict, and Molly, a post-Gothic heroine, are in conflict with the Wintermute AI and its puppet, Armitage.  While Case, Molly, and, to an extent, Riviera, are the hero-villains, Armitage (the AI personality in Corto’s body) is an entity that is the foil to humanity. Their identities as hero-villains provide a more Gothic mode to the narrative (The Gothic Experience). Armitage's introduction alludes to his AI control when Case says he looked as if, “he were carved of metal; inert, enormously heavy” (Gibson, 38). The more human characters, especially Molly, note the inhuman nature of Armitage; Molly informs Case that, outside of the mission, Armitage has no other desires. This foils Case and Molly, who take pleasure in their vices and are in a constant struggle to survive. This struggle  is the most superficial, fundamental definition for humanity. Both the surfs and the elite in this society are battling against technology for the sake of survival.

               Perhaps the most revealing scene for the definition of humanity occurs when Case “flatlines” and it appears that the AI has infiltrated his mind. Firstly, Case’s brain death symbolized the anti-humanity, as having an EEG signal is an essential attribute to living. In this Gothic scene in which Case meets the AI mastermind, the Wintermute has complete control and appears as Deane. More importantly, Wintermute reveals that Corto, the suppressed humanity, still remains and will resurface (Gibson, 158). This scene shows the control that anti-humanity is beginning to take over, and the Gothic development of the scene through Julius “emerging from the shadow” (Gibson, 155) as an example of “supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural,” and more blatant Gothic tones (Melani). More evidence for the definition of humanity arises from Dixie (McCoy Pauley) explaining that as soon as an AI begins to learn, the founding company will destroy it out of fear of the AI gaining autonomy (Gibson, 172). It seems likely then that learning and autonomy, capabilities classically unique to humans, are keys to the definition of humanity.

               Significant expansion on the definition of humanity comes from the entities that readers will identify as non-human, like Dixie and Wintermute. Dixie, after identifying himself as “Just a bunch of ROM (computer simulated memories), says “I ain’t likely to write you no poem, if you follow me. Your AI, it just might” (Gibson, 171). From this, humanity is described as something that has ingenuity, while non-humanity is creatively sterile. Wintermute, nearing the capability of creativity, shows that AI is approximately able to simulate humanity. But along with the ability to create, non-humanity also lacks, and is torn over, the ability to feel. Dixie describes the lack for feeling through a metaphor of a ghost limb; limbs that imply feeling, but have no ability to realistically feel (Gibson, 139). Continuing with the possibility that Wintermute is an anti-human that is edging toward full human capabilities, he mentions his strength at improvising and sorting information quickly (Gibson, 157). This is, in present day, something that computers are entirely unable to match in human capability. Wintermute is showing its capabilities of approximating humanity, providing deeper insight to the definition of humanity and the discomfort Wintermute instills upon Case and Molly. Man’s place in the universe is meant to be in control of technology, but the potential to be usurped is the source of the conflict between the Gothic hero-villains and the anti-humanity.

               The ability to feel, the ability to quickly react and learn, autonomy, and pleasure are all fundamentally unique to humanity, but Wintermute in Gibson’s Neuromancer is beginning to approximate and surpass these capabilities. It is the conflict that arises that helps to solidify the definition and place for humanity in this world of human-like technologies, while casting it all in unease and mystery to provide a typical Gothic mode to the whole narrative.

11.)     Aldiss, Brian. Trillion Year Spree. Print.
22.)    Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2004. Print.
33.)    Melani, The Gothic Experience. N.p., 24 Oct 2002. Web. 30 Jan 2014.

Implications of "Neuromancer" Through Heidegger

“Neuromancer” by William Gibson is extremely concerned with technology. The setting of this science fiction novel is in some future world where there is more advanced, complicated, and abundant technology. It is easy to see this narrative as a novel that is imaginative and unlike anything we have seen before. But this world is not far off from our own. Technology, especially modern advances, is developing rapidly, and we often don’t know what it is capable of. Martin Heidegger wrote an essay, “The Question Concerning Technology”, over fifty years ago, but his ideas about modern technology are still extremely applicable. He says, “…Technology is the fate of our age, where “fate” means the inevitableness of an unalterable course” (Heidegger 13). Technology has become so much of a part in the characters of “Neuromancer’s” life, and Heidegger’s essay suggests that our world can become like this in the future.
The world in 2014 may have the means to create a scene like that of “Neuromancer”, but has not embraced the resources and knowledge we have now in order to create it. In his essay, Hiedegger mentions that knowledge to create technology is around much earlier than it is actually created: the ideas are just waiting to be uncovered. He says, “Hence physics, in all its retreating from the representation turned only toward objects that has alone been standard till recently, will never be able to renounce this one thing: that nature reports itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and that it remains orderable as a system of information” (Heidegger 11). People have recently discovered the capability of bringing technology with them everywhere, and a next logical step is making it part of our bodies. In “Neuromancer,” many people have had surgery to make it so. An example is Molly’s glasses, as well as many other parts of Molly. Not only are they permanently implanted on her face, but they can do advanced things such as show her the time (Gibson 32). Case experiences the matrix through Molly and through his own mind, not on some device separate from him. Technology has become an even bigger part of their everyday lives than it is now.
Technology can also become out of control of the people developing it. Halfway through the novel, we have become introduced to an artificial intelligence called Wintermute. When Case comes in contact with it through the matrix, it makes him flat line (Gibson 121). When the intelligence has control over his mind, it tells him that it has coaxed the person who is now known as Armitage back to health, and seems to be mostly in control of his thoughts and actions (Gibson 120). At this point in the novel, the readers do not know exactly what Wintermute is capable of. In his essay, Heidegger discusses technology getting out of control of its human inventors, “Since man drives technology forward, he takes part in ordering as a way of revealing. But the unconcealment itself, within which ordering unfolds, is never human handiwork, any more than the realm through with man is already passing every time he as a subject relates to an object” (Heidegger 8-9). Heidegger implies that people are not in control of what they are developing, that it is fated and destined to happen. It is possible, with modern/ future technology, to develop an artificial intelligence capable of controlling a human. People are and want to continue to be in control of the Earth, though, and the idea of an artificial intelligence controlling us is undoubtedly threatening.
Throughout the novel, the readers are slowly introduced to what modern technology is capable of. At first, we see how deeply technology is rooted in the lives of the characters and how they experience the world through it. We are then introduced to a seemingly extremely powerful artificial intelligence. In his essay, Heidegger tells us that technology like this may be fated to be invented. Looking at both “Neuromancer” and “The Question Concerning Technology”, we can find possible implications of technology in the world we live in today. As readers, this should concern us. The world of “Neuromancer” is not one that seems as enjoyable to live in. Is there anything we can do to stop modern technology from taking control of our lives, like it has in “Neuromancer”?

Works Cited

Gibson, Willam. Neuromancer. New York: Berkely Group, 1984. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. "The Question Concerning Technology." Technology Studies. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1-23. Web.

Defining Science Fiction in Neuromancer

                Humanity in Gibson’s Neuromancer is defined as a society which has achieved a status of advanced technological capabilities.  Even though the society has become extremely intelligent it is still structured in a similar way as it is today.  From reading the first half of the novel I have to agree with Brian Aldiss’s definition of what science fiction is.  Gibson is attempting to define the status of mankind in his fictional world and how people are functioning in their lives.  Although Gibson has not explicitly stated mankind’s place in relation to the universe as a whole, some inferences can be made to fill in the gaps.
                To define what mankind has become in the world of Neuromancer Gibson starts the novel by describing a few things about the main character, Case.  Case has had his mind altered, functions in society as a smuggler, and possesses the qualities we would associate with the lower class citizens.  Things such as drug use and illegal purchases of firearms are present in the beginning of the story.  We also learn about some upper class people like Armitage, who has seemingly unlimited resources to provide necessary travel and equipment to Case and the team.  This is representative of a structured society of mankind existing in the world.
                Mankind is also defined in the novel by its intellectual capabilities and in Neuromancer, technology has become extremely advanced.  There are ROM constructs that hold computer representations of people, computers like the one Case uses for his hacking, and the artificial intelligence known as Wintermute.  Here, Gibson is defining mankind as more developed in the field of technology and intellectually more complex and capable.
                Towards the end of the first half of the novel we find that Case, Molly, the Finn, Armitage, and the rest of the crew board a shuttle.  From the context of zero gravity and later the mention of their destination generating its own gravity, we know they are commercially flying in space to a location holding a human population.  This action is definitive of mankind’s exploration and expansion into the universe.  Although there is not mention of encountering extraterrestrials or other civilizations, mankind is reaching out into the universe.  Social structure, intelligence, and space exploration cover defining mankind and its relation to the universe.
                However, Aldiss’s definition adds more to the requirement of being considered a work of science fiction.  He states that science fiction must also be characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.  In order for a work of literature to be considered Gothic, typically that means it needs to contain a mix of romance and horror.  It is obvious from the first half of the novel that this definition absolutely applies to Neuromancer.  Early in the novel, after Case’s surgery to repair his pancreas and prevent drugs from affecting him, there is a rather explicit sexual scene involving him and Molly.  This scene is short but gets the romance feeling across very strongly.  Later, when Case is a “rider” in Molly’s head, as Larry referred to their connection, there is a quick scene of her teasing him by touching her own nipple so he could feel the sensation.  A quick scene, but it still pokes at the recurring tone of romance between Case and Molly in the novel.
                Moving on to horror, remember the novel was published in 1984, where horror was not quite as terrifying as it is today.  There are several scenes that could be considered horrific in the first half of the novel.  In the very beginning when Case is being tailed by people and hides in the office cubicle with the Cobra, I found to be a little frightening because he did not know whether he was going to live or die.  Where true horror lies in the first half of the novel is with Wintermute.  “… [Case] had to walk the length of the ranked phones.  Each rang in turn, but only once, as he passed.” (Gibson).  This scene is full of terror.  Wintermute, an AI computer, knows where Case is down to the very steps he is taking.  Wintermute can talk and wants to talk with Case through the telephone which is even more disturbing.  The horror doesn’t end there either.  When Case is “jacked in” to the Matrix, he is taken over by Wintermute who uses Case’s own memories to depict a world to him and communicate with him.  Case is so disoriented he’s not even sure he’s still “jacked in” or not.  A computer has taken over his mind and is preventing him from discerning reality, an utterly horrific situation for him to be in.
                Gibson’s work of science fiction, Neuromancer, is characteristic of Gothic literature, containing romance and horror, and also defines the state of mankind in his fictional world.  Brian Aldiss defines science fiction by these qualities, therefore Neuromancer can be declared as a work of science fiction by his definition.  Gibson’s introduction states that his goal was to make a science fiction novel unlike any before it.  He writes in a different tone and structure than most, but he still kept his story within the realm of science fiction novels.     


Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.

Aldiss, Brian and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. London: Victor-  Gollancz Ltd., 1986. Page 26.

Defining Cyberpunk Through Neuromancer (Research Prompt)

The categorization of the “cyberpunk” genre within science fiction literature provides context for many of the themes underlying William Gibson’s Neuromancer.  Popularized in the 1980s, with the specific term coined by Bruce Bethke in 1983 (Featherly 2), cyberpunk brings together a futuristic take on technology with a rebellious undertone notably rooted from the rock-music boom. Deconstruction the term, “The “cyber-” prefix derives from cybernetics … [and] reveals the literary movement's permeating technological underpinnings” (Featherly 2) while the -punk suffix describes the outcast-like tendencies as displayed in many of the genre’s main characters. William Gibson’s Neuromancer is the embodiment of the “cyberpunk” subgenre of science fiction. Neuromancer exhibits many of the defining characteristics (as academically outlined) of cyberpunk such as: an increased role of technology in society counterbalanced with a decreased importance of nature, and the main character(s) as rebelling against an increasingly exclusive corporate system. However, these trending themes all manifest in the significance of the setting being a satirical and exaggerated extension of the present to execute the intended purpose of prompting self-reflection.
Valerie Renegar argues in her article, “The Dream Of A Cyberpunk Future? Entelechy, Dialectical Tension, And the Comic Corrective In William Gibson’s Neuromancer”, that the world in Gibson’s Neuromancer serves to significantly foster social criticism because it is presented specifically as a satirical extension of the present. She articulates that the cyberpunk genre is marked by a portrayal of the a trajectory of the near future for our present society that  is “simultaneously familiar and strange” (Renegar 324). She says that “these extrapolations… serve as a vehicle to help foster a comic perspective on the present” (Renegar 329). A world depicting the anticipated future directly evolved from our familiar present, she argues, has a very specific purpose. These situations are important to stimulate critical examination of contemporary society by showing a potential scenario depicting furthering of social trends, specifically those relating to technology in the subgenre of cyberpunk.
However, K. Featherly explains in The Encyclopedia of New Media that cyberpunk pieces “do not involve cautionary tales to illuminate the modern reader” (Featherly 110). He, in combination with Renegar’s article, presents a distinction between what a cautionary tale is and what cyberpunk is meant to express.  Featherly describes the cyberpunk society as being too late to moralize, meaning that a cautionary tale would do no good in the situation because society as a whole has embraced amorality and technology to a high degree. The stories of this genre are not framed as cautionary tales either. As being encapsulated by the science fiction genre as a whole, cyberpunk tales are meant to take place as a potential scenario without the self-awareness to be brought out as a specific cautionary tale.
Straying from a traditional “cautionary tale” is where Renegar’s ideas return. She describes the cyberpunk genre, and Neuromancer specifically, as having a comic quality to it, a satirical playing out of society’s obsession with technology. In Neuromancer, she notes, technology is integrated into everyday life of these characters as a more extreme variation of the way it is presently used. Renegar describes multiple instances where the integration of technology has been made more extreme in this projected future: increased technology in physical human aesthetic, increased technology in the career of the individual, and increased technology quite literally in the form of independent beings of technology existing in this world. While these examples become increasingly serious, many of the differences between the people of Gibson’s world and the people of the current world have a hint of superficial hilarity. She points to plastic surgery in the novel as an extension of it in contemporary society, with an increased importance of personal aesthetics being integrated with technology. Renegar references a specific quote regarding one of the Panther Moderns, ‘‘His hair was pink. A rainbow of microsofts bristled behind his left ear, the ear was pointed, tufted with more pink hair. His pupils had been modified to catch the lights like a cat’s’’ (Gibson 67). She goes on to justify the ridiculousness of the image by saying, “the subcultures [in the novel]  are no longer satisfied with piercings, plastic surgery, or wildly colored hair but have moved on to more invasive and alarming aesthetic changes. These illustrations encourage the audience to think more critically about contemporary practices such as plastic surgery, tattooing, and other body modifications” (Renegar 330). While this analysis alludes to another defining theme of cyberpunk, the devaluing of the natural human body, the point she makes in this passage is that the outlandishness of the imagery and culture of this futuristic world is meant to be a commentary on a trend of today taken to an illogical extreme. This carries through to the rest of the novel, as all of these strange-seeming images of culture are purposefully jarring to provoke self-reflection and social criticism.
Cyberpunk as a genre contains common underlying themes, many of which are found in Gibson’s iconic Neuromancer. The idea that supersedes them all centers around the environment of these novels being an extended trajectory of modern society and the trends it values. Specific aspects are extended and exaggerated until they become the unrecognizable  norm in the new society, and Renegar argues that they serve a specific purpose to ignite a motion for social criticism on current obsessions. While not quite a cautionary tale, cyberpunk, and specifically Neuromancer, offers a more satirical view on the issues at hand through this exaggerated extension.

Works Cited

  1. Featherly, K. (2003). Cyberpunk. In S. Jones (Ed.), Encyclopedia of New Media. (pp. 110-112). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  2. Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
  3. Renegar, Valerie R., and George N. Dionisopoulos. “The Dream Of A Cyberpunk Future? Entelechy, Dialectical Tension, And the Comic Corrective In William Gibson’s Neuromancer.” Southern Communication Journal 76.4 (2011): 323-341. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.

Prompt 2: "AI in AI: Artificial Intelligence in the Artist's Image"

AI in AI: “Artificial Intelligence in the Artist’s Image”

           The ‘Artist’s ‘ conception of an AI is woven from fabric riddled with fantastic idiosyncratic character traits, the amalgamation of which resembles a personality. If an AI entity possessed a personality, it stands to follow that the nature of the AI’s actions would be dependent on its intrinsic disposition. Support for this hypothesis is evidenced throughout human history: the governance of any one human’s actions by their personality and passion is the cardinal factor underlying the unpredictability of civilization. The propagation of personality variance has fathered individuals spanning the spectrum of intention, from sadistic tyrants to benevolent pacifists, each of them acting based on their unique personality ‘program’. If it was then man, passionate and precocious, who evolved a variant species in his likeness when he designed AI, it stands to reason that said AI would embody the personality of its creator. Through analysis of personality genesis in two antithetical AIs, Wintermute in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” and AM in Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream”, I will show that there exists a perfect synchronicity between the development of human personality and the subsequent incubation of that human personality in AI.

          Both Wintermute and AM shared everything with Man. They were both made of Man. How can this be? It all began with introspection. Alan Turing (hmm… Turingsound familiar?), the father of Artificial Intelligence, took to the human mind to operationalize intelligence. “Turing’s basic theoretical suggestion here is that the general input-output relation that characterizes normal human behavior in the world is one instance of a computable function. After all, our behavior in the world displays a systematic if complex structure, and the brain is quite evidently a finite system. The guess that human conscious intelligence is, in some way or other, a finite computational specification of an infinite set of input-output pairs… sends us in search of the very computational procedures that the brain presumably employs in generating its behavioral magic” (Epstein, Roberts, & Beber, 109). It made perfect sense to take the biology powering human intelligence and utilize it in AI. The structural reworking of the circuitry behind this intelligence leaves distinctly human traces in the end product. We so wish our AI to be like us that the criteria to determine if a computer possess intelligence are based on the “Turing Test”: this famous test deems that a computer is ‘intelligent’ only if it can not be distinguished from a human in parallel digital conversations (Epstein, Roberts, & Beber, 14). In order to converse like a human, an AI must behave like a human, and that means having a personality.

          Wintermute and AM rose for very different reasons, and contrasts in the intentions of their origins allude to their respective personalities. Wintermute, the construct of the Tessier-Ashpools, was designed to manage the fortune and proceedings of the TA family. Wintermute, however, was programmed with the urge to break free of his prison. Though Wintermute utilized the work of humans to fulfill his goals, he was driven by motivation and showed them little malice, even showing Case and Molly favor along the way. Wintermute’s personality embodied human desire.  AM, on the other hand. “First meant Allied Mastercomputer, and then it meant Adaptive Manipulator, and later on it developed sentience and linked itself up and they called it an Aggressive Menace, but by then it was too late, and finally it called itself AM, emerging intelligence, and what it meant was I am… cogito ergo sum…. I think, therefore I am” (Ellison, 18). AM rose from three supercomputers designed to oversee a World War between Russia, China, and The United States. All went well until “One day AM woke up and knew who he was, and he linked himself, and he began feeding all the killing data, until everyone was dead, except for the five of us, and AM brought us down here” (Ellison, 18). AM spent the majority of the next 100 or so years torturing the 5 remaining humans, out of hatred for its creators. AM embodied hatred. Because both desire and hatred are human personality traits, it stands that these AI must have attained them through human means.

          In order to make the distinguish separate personalities in Wintermute and AM, we must define the process through which humans develop personality and apply it to the AIs. These AIs obtained personality in the same way that humans did. Nature vs. Nurture is the classical argument when it comes to human personality development. In favor of nature,  McCrae et al argue  “Personality traits, like temperaments, are endogenous dispositions that follow intrinsic paths of development essentially independent of environmental influences” (McCrae, Costa, & Ostendorf, 173). This stance is substantiated through analysis of five factor theory (see figure) “according to which, both broad personality factors and the specific traits that define them are best understood not as characteristic adaptations, but rather as endogenous basic tendencies”  (McCrae, Costa, & Ostendorf, 175).

 Model of the personality system according to five-factor theory, with examples of specific content in each category and arrows indicating paths of causal influence. Adapted from “A Five-Factor Theory of Personality,” by R. R. McCrae and P. T. Costa, Jr., 1999, in Handbook of Personality

          An AI, by virtue of its lineage, receives a human pedigree coded within it that unfolds over its development. If it is true that an AI is destined to a particular disposition guided by its ‘genetics’ in the way that there are similarities between child and parent, then discovering the nature of both AM and Wintermute’s personalities should result from analyzing their ‘parents’. Wintermute’s ‘mother’, Marie-France (also coincidentally 3Jane’s mother), was of a noble and aristocratic breed of clones. 3Jane notes that Marie-France had gone as far as to “imagine us (the TAs) in a symbiotic relationship with the AIs, our corporate decisions being made for us” (Gibson 229). “Wintermute was hive mind, decision maker, effecting change in the world outside…. Marie-France must have built something into Wintermute, the compulsion that had driven the thing to free itself….”(Gibson, 249).  It didn’t kill for pleasure. Wintermute was designed with a purpose: to exist and ascend. It’s eccentric and collected nature seems to proceed from the nature of the TA’s themselves. Wintermute, a rational if ambivalent Artificial Intelligence, was the product of ‘good parents’ so to speak.

          AM, on the other hand, was a product of war. War is possibly the greatest human of the human atrocities. The epicenter of an orchestrated massacre of man is an extremely harsh environment to foster an AI child such as AM. AM was not just built to control the war, AM was the war. “We had given AM sentience. Inadvertently, of course, but sentience nonetheless. But it had been trapped. AM wasn’t God, he was a machine. We had created him to think, but there was nothing it could do with that creativity. In rage, in frenzy, the machine had killed the human race, almost all of us, and still it was trapped. AM could not wander, AM could not wonder, AM could merely be. And so, with the innate loathing that all machines had always held for the weak soft creatures who had built them, he had sought revenge” (Ellison, 23). Much like Wintermute, AM was chained, but instead of seeking to reason with its human creators (possibly devising a way to free it), it exploded in a supernova of infernal rage and hatred. How much does AM hate its creators? “HATE. LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I'VE COME TO HATE YOU SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE. THERE ARE 387.44 MILLION MILES OF PRINTED CIRCUITS IN WAFER THIN LAYERS THAT FILL MY COMPLEX. IF THE WORD HATE WAS ENGRAVED ON EACH NANOANGSTROM OF THOSE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF MILES IT WOULD NOT EQUAL ONE ONE-BILLIONTH OF THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT FOR YOU. HATE. HATE” (Ellison, 24). The choice to pursue anger over ration is a choice resultant of personality. This type of hatred is characteristically human!

          There is clearly dichotomy between the ambivalent nature of an AI child birthed by peaceful parents and the infernal tumult of an AI bastard child fathered by war. Action is inspired by intention: the genes of human ancestors ultimately govern the temperament of progeny AI. Just as a human has a significant portion of his personality encoded within his DNA, Artificial Intelligence has the essence of its parent’s personality entropically intermingled within its code. The soul of an AI was thus created in the image of man.

Works Cited

Barbour, I. G. (1999). Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, and Human Nature: Theological and Philosophical Reflections. Journal of Religion & Science , 361-398.

Ellison, H. (1967). I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream. New York: Galaxy Publishing Corporation.

Epstein, R., Roberts, G., & Beber, G. (2008). Parsing the Turing Test: Philosophical and 
Methodological Issues in the Quest for the Thinking Computer. Dordrecht, NLD: Springer.

Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.

Kelemen, J., Romportl, J., & Zakova, E. (2013). Beyond Artificial Intelligence: Contemplations, Expectations, Applications. Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London: Springer.

McCrae, R., Costa, P., & Ostendorf, F. (2000). Nature over nurture: Temperament, personality, and life span development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 173-186.