Date: Thu, 22 Jan 1998 10:58:33 -0500 (EST) Commentary on Mitchell's City of Bits Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Evolution, Asynchronous cCommunication, and Weaponry, and Other Matters

Emily Morganti

I've been reading City of Bits and I think it's really interesting how Mitchell looks at the shift to cyborgs as being pretty much inevitable, but I have a question about that in terms of evolution. It seems like Mitchell is saying that this shift is always going to be a good thing, but I found at least two examples where it doesn't work. The first is on pages 15-16 when he's talking about synchronous vs. asynchronous communication. He says that "strictly synchronous communication is really just a limit case of asynchronous communication (16)." This may be true, but he seems to be saying that asynchronous communication is always the way to go, and it is how everything will be in the future, and I don't think that's practical in time sensitive situations -- such as emergencies or distance learning. (Actually, the reason this caught my attention in the first place is that I work for a company that's developing a new type of consumer techical support that involves a synchronous exchange of voice and data over the consumer's pc... so the "synchronous" and "asynchronous" are key words that I see a lot... and even in that specialized area, synchronous communication -- the ability to walk a client through his or her problem rather than receive a fax about it and fax back a solution -- is a lot more practical and there's a big demand for it right now in that market. Maybe it's not quite what Mitchell is addressing, but i think the same could be said in other contexts.)

The other example I found that didn't quite make sense to me was on page 39 when Mitchell is talking about the possibilities of cyborgs and virtual reality -- specifically, how this technology can be used for weapons. He makes an interesting point that virtual reality warfare could replace the more human-driven weaponry that we're used to (actually, he's quoting a 1987 Military Review article: "...soldiers may actually appear to be three miles tall and twenties miles wide... we might hope to create future warriors that we could send forward surrounded by protecting robots or remote control aircraft (39)"). But it seems to me that the point of war is to kill other people. I'm not condoning war, but I don't know if the basic concept of war (to kill other people) could be so easily replaced by technology... there really isn't much difference between robots fighting each other (like Mitchell is suggesting) and military officials playing some kind of strategic game against each other -- both would be simulations, both would result in no casualties, and both would ultimately reach a resolution. I guess in the robot scenario, there's still the chance for distruction of property, but I see the killing of other people (and the barbaric thoughts and actions that go along with that killing) as a key element of war... I don't think that basic concept of warfare can change so quickly just because some parts of society are evolving toward a more cyborg-based existence.