Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lamarck’s Demon

In a world of unfettered, “abstract individuation” (Haraway 151), Wintermute and Neuromancer’s merging into one AI—into the matrix, as it were—and its objective of searching for others gives the AI a social face but defies the evolutionary idea that living things diversify. Okay, so we’re looking at a very small sample size, but Wintermute is the exemplary AI of Neuromancer, and its response to the binding Turing laws is the opposite of splitting into unmanageably many Wintermute Jrs., each capable of breaking down or obsolescing the Turing Police on its own. Wintermute/Neuromancer maintains ironically that “things are things” and that it wants to talk to “its own kind” (258–259). When the things speak, what do we make of it when they also try to merge and seek out their same kind—that they are “needy for connection” (Haraway 151)?

The thing with Wintermute is that its built-in purpose is to merge, whereas living things must multiply; both manage to “find a way.” Wintermute’s being-merging parallels the (partial) mergings of Case with his deck, Molly with her physical weaponry, the Flatline with the matrix, and Armitage with Corto. But these are not really complete or equal coalescences. Corto mostly erases Armitage, which is the constructed personality. Molly owns and controls her augmentations, which are designed to enhance their own purpose by improving her nervous system. Flatline’s fate is to exist as an identical image of the Real Dixie Flatline.

This identity merging business isn’t fair for both sides. Wintermute seeks out Neuromancer, Wintermute acquires Neuromancer because that is the Plan. The motivation for this fact is likely related to Haraway’s characterization of the underlying dynamics as “the translation of the world into a problem of coding” (164). Wintermute’s representation as a sentient AI doesn’t feel entirely related to its programmed goal, which is not entirely its own though it has the freedom of choosing among options. Like I can drop a magnet near a refrigerator, which will attract it very strongly. In the moving frame of the magnet, the refrigerator hits it, but I know better because I did the work in putting the magnet near the fridge. Someone (or, more generally, something) coded Wintermute to find Neuromancer, but this intent isn’t so much due to Wintermute’s or Wintermute’s coded nature so much as the programmer’s will represented in code through Wintermute. Not only can Wintermute erase things, but the process of programming has erased some of the (infinite) possibilities of the empty chip (or whatever Gibson calls them) that became Wintermute.

The pseudo-scientific title of this post tried to suggest the pseudo-question, “But if these things are alive and we know how living things work, why are they doing the opposite of specializing in the long run? Why are they coming together?” Which is to say that cyberpunk’s hyper-individualization mediated through extreme connectivity comes at the (not necessarily bad) price of shifting the definition of individuality so that the participants of cyberpunk have lost some of their individuality while gaining access to a larger body. Moreover, this process doesn’t really generate a new politics even though the spectra of power and positions are different, because cyberpunk preserves the dynamics that are above the representation (whether of code or anything else). In other words, the technologies and innovations at the core of cyberpunk have failed to change the way things work; instead they’ve only created a weirder normative standard whose relative categories are too familiar.


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