Merger: Part Human, Part AI

Peter Peng '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

Max Headroom, the first cyberpunk TV series, deals with a growing concern of mass media becoming despotic entities. The series begins its first episode (episode guides here) with Network 23's star reporter Edison Carter sustaining critical injuries, left to die by Network executive Grossberg. In Carter's place, Grossberg creates a virtual simulation program containing parts of Carter's personality and evolves into Max Headroom for which the show is named after.

As the story develops, the Network employees begin to view and treat Max as a human being, despite his choppy speech, obvious computer graphics rendering, and lack of physical presence. This brings into question why one would consider Max human. Is it his display of emotions and humanity? Is it because of Max's personality (taking after Carter) and Max's reactions to situations such as being sucked into the addicting TV game show Whacketts in episode 11?

A world where simulation and engineering mix with biology often in the same body and where an indistinct line defines sentience is complicated enough, but a merge between what we so casually consider human and what we deem artificial complicates the matter of being human further. Like Major Kusangi Motoko from Ghost in the Shell merges with the Puppet Master, Max Headroom is somewhat of a merge between an original AI script and Carter. Could this merge create what the Tyrell Corporation in Ridley Scott's Bladerunner calls "more human than human?" In these bleak, futuristic outlooks of the world, technology and humanity grow ever closer, no longer merely co-existing as separate parts, but existing together within the same entity. What does this mean? Are we creating more life (instilling life into machines and simulations) or are we becoming more lifeless (becoming more cybernetic)?


The Max Headroom TV series (copyright Warner Bros.)

Cyborg OV Max Headroom

Last modified 22 March 2005