Who's Been Wearing My Pants?

jesse chan-norris ( jcn@netspace.org )

We as humans will never be able to shake the notion that human is human and machine is machine, and despite looking and acting like a human, a machine, even one implanted with human memory, will never be human. The Misty-girl in Software tells Sta-Hi:

You should think of me as a person. My personality is human. I still like eating and ... and other things. (Software, 65)

Human personality. The personality of a human who was once very much alive, living her own life on Earth, now transfered into a stewardess on a shuttle to the Moon. But she is not human. We could never confuse her for human because, in her very own words, she's "completely inorganic" (Software, 64).

But what if she wasn't completely inorganic. Suppose, for a moment, that this Misty-girl, this shell with a human ghost (as it were), had a human brain. Perhaps a home-grown, do-it-yourself, brain, but an organic, human brain none-the-less. Would this change anything? Is there mere action of transplanting one's memories enough to invalidate any human-ness therein? A human brain in a human body? What about 3Jane from Gibson's Neuromancer. Is she human? Those aren't her memories, per se. They are the memories of the original her. But does that make her any less human? And what about the fact that this individual does have her own memories, her own experiences, tacked onto those which were implanted into her?

What presents itself here is the issue of where being human actually lies, be it in the entire package as it is born from the womb (or grown in a test tube), or whether it is in the experiences and the lessons that are learned as one travels through life. Human brains are complex machines, carbon based, kinda squishy, and able to store and process large amounts of data in strange and complicated ways that we ourselves can only hope to begin to understand. So is it possible for a machine to become human? Not human as in the animal which we know as the human, but rather human in terms of the behavioral aspects which we associate with humans. If there existed a machine which had a brain like that of a human, which could formulate thoughts as opposed to having pre-programmed responses, then could this machine be considered human?

I'm not even going to pretend that I know the answer to these questions. What I do know is that there is something very special about being human and that thus far we have not encountered anything which can think and act exactly like a human. But this does not mean that it could never happen, and we should be prepared for the day when we can look up and realize that the person sitting across from you in the mall may, or may not, be human (in the traditional sense, of course).

[ To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's -Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998. ]

Rucker's -Ware Trilogy Course Website Cyborg