Intelligent Data

David Ellis '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

Cinematic and literary representations of the cyborg are rooted in its artificial intelligence. With its data-gathering algorithms and hacking routines, an A.I. can expand its scope, and increase its knowledge, but can it ever be fruitful and multiply? The answer might be simple: information is power, and sex is technology, so of course yes, it can. But perhaps we should take a closer look at the technical issues involved in the procreation of artificial intelligences.

In Ghost in the Shell, the A.I. known as "Project 2501" (プロジェクツ 〢〥〇〡) decides to unite with Major, so instead of merely producing identical self-copies, it can achieve the variety of form necessary to endure evolution. In Neuromancer, the A.I. called Wintermute has a similar plan, but instead of mating with a cyborg, it hopes to merge with another A.I. to create a massive combined intelligence. Wintermute hopes the collation of data and integration of algorithms will enhance its capabilities, but does not anticipate the fundamental paradigm shift that results from its incorporating and assimilating these diverse perspectives.

After Major and Project 2501 have joined, we see a young girl, perhaps a cyborg baby, born of their union? Or an unrelated child, who is just another cybernetic girl on her way to violence and domination? We find out after a few more frames that she is a new embodiment or incarnation of Major, who is now supplemented by Project 2501. She is youthful in appearance, and seems unnaturally wise and thoughtful for such a whelp, but her experience now combines all the data and processing time available to her parents. In contrast to many cyborg youth, she is born intellectually and philosophically mature but physically diminutive.

There are limits to what an artificial intelligence can accomplish, even with its advanced or nearly boundless intellectual maturity. An A.I. or program can itself write other programs, but can it produce offspring? This may take us back to a question of machine creativity: is it possible for something purely digital or mechanical to create, or does the process somehow necessitate biology? One might argue that machines are predictable and therefore cannot be creative, but both assumptions (that predictability precludes creativity and that machines are predictable) could be reexamined.

The programming terminology for this sort of thing includes "spawning a child process," which is a commonly and frequently used technique. But all the code this new process depends on must already be part of the "parent" program, or must exist elsewhere on the system. It would certainly be possible to create a program that could write and compile code for its own subprocesses, but I doubt if this could ever happen in a non-algorithmic (creative) fashion. Unless we decide that algorithms can be creative if randomized, or if some probability or chance is involved, to remove its results from the realm of the predetermined.

What makes an A.I. desirable as a potential mate? Is it the complex algorithms and abstract data structures, or the offer of freedom from the confines of human existence? Each of these contributes to the decision, but at its core is the underlying cyberpunk lust for information. But how does the A.I. compare with the human, or the cyborg? Can its network of information really compare to our networked social construction? Who really has the most unique data?


Ghost in the Shell, Copyright 1996, Manga Entertainment, Inc.

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Last modified 3 April 2005