Sunday, October 09, 2011

Neuromancer — „what if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?”

There are two kinds of Sci-Fi books. Of the first kind are books that once described the space travels in gigantic cannon cartridges.The second kind of books uses the Sci-Fi „tools” to transmit a specific message. The message or thought that does not reduce itself to any specific implement or concrete futuristic scenery.

There are many primitive books (and movies) of the first kind.
There are much fewer books of the second kind….

I read number of books of both kinds. Sometimes you start a book, with a hope to find there a message, but it ends up in the proverbial „trip to moon in cannon ball”. Unfortunately the Sci-Fi book I read and reviewed here recently „WWW trilogy” is nothing more than such a stupid story. Even though its theme was artificial intelligence.

William Gibson’s „Neuromancer” is certainly of the second kind. But in the very beginning of this review, let me tell you that from the first sentence you know you encountered a great literature:

„The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

The language of the entire book has such specific colouring. As with many other books I read and reviewed, I find that kind of specific atmosphere, the best described via an analogy to color, as something rear and extremely valuable in books. However the colouring of Neuromancer is dark and void. Is not friendly, nor quite humane. Yet it exhibits beauty of its own kind.
What is so special about this book, the book that I discovered because of my son recommendation (he read it about 10 years ago !) and because of another book, „Infinite Reality:…” (by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson) ?? Perhaps it did not correctly predicted WHAT is cyberspace now, or HOW it is built. But many years before Web it very accurately captured its spirit:

„Cyberspace. A con sensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.  Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding....”

As many agree, it was Gibson, who in some metaphoric sense “invented” cyberspace. How true is  this review title, borrowed from Jack Womack’s note about Neuromancer: „ what if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?”. Impossible? Well… If you think about all these geeks and web inventors of the nineties who certainly have been reading Neuromancer before or during starting up their garage businesses? He also shed light on the aspect of cyberspace which we only recently discovered in web2.0 communities:

„It wasn't a name he knew. Something new, something that had come in since he'd been in Chiba. Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the speed of light; entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks, and then vanish utterly.
"Go," he said. The Hosaka had accessed its array of libraries, journals, and news services.”

Gibson's painting of the virtual reality touches the most important aspect of it – total controllability and enumerability:

„And here things could be counted, each one. He knew the number of grains of sand in the construct of the beach (a number coded in a mathematical system that existed nowhere outside the mind that was Neuromancer). He knew the number of yellow food packets in the canisters in the bunker (four hundred and seven). He knew the number of brass teeth in the left half of the open zipper of the salt-crusted leather jacket that Linda Lee wore as she trudged along the sunset beach, swinging a stick of driftwood in her hand (two hundred and two).”

However, Gibson went further and beyond cyberspace as we know it today. He explores matters that are related to AI in a way nobody at his time did. Instead of writing about robots, he explores the roots of AI:

„The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games," said the voice-over, "in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.”

Any doubts he is right? The game industry was, if not strongest, driving force of virtual reality technology — at least its most popular. But he drills it deeper. He explores what could be defined as personality problems associated with AI. He somehow predicted what later proponents of so-called Apocalyptic AI would preach. However, Gibson notices issues that, despite many years of development, were not yet addressed:

„Wintermute had built Armitage up from scratch, with Corto's memories of Screaming Fist as the foundation. But Armitage's "memories" wouldn't have been Corto's after a certain point.”

He also comes to the matters related to such, potentially omnipresent (nothing strange in today’s cyberspace) reality:

"So what's the score? How are things different? You running the world now? You God?"
"Things aren't different. Things are things."
"But what do you do? You just there?" Case shrugged, put the vodka and the shuriken down on the cabinet and lit a Yeheyuan. "I talk to my own kind." "But you're the whole thing. Talk to yourself?"

In many ways Gibson’s depiction of Virtual Reality denudes its deep and dangerous ramifications. What is human reaction to it? Suddenly we discover that rage is perhaps the most human reaction to it:

"Mean, motherfucker," he whispered to the wind. "Don't take a chance, do you? Wouldn't give me any junkie, huh?
I know what this is...." He tried to keep the desperation from his voice. "I know, see? I know who you are. You're the other one. "So what now?" He swung them back into the bank of cloud. "Where do we go from here?" "I don't know, Case. Tonight the very matrix asks itself that question.

This very aspect of Neuromancer – disclosing and denuding the consequences of AI concepts, plans and steps toward it – should be studied with diligence by any adept of the nascent Brave New World….

Great book. The movie is coming.

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