Wetware: Fiction or Future?

Jacob George

Rudy Rucker's Software first stimulated my mind by unexpectedly forcing me to consider the positive aspects involved in the suggested future of a human-bopper merge. My initial Rucker essay, then, was a rather humorous projection of what life could be given all the strengths of the boppers minus the weaknesses of humanity. Humorous, and cynical maybe, but not serious. Now, after indulging in Rucker's Wetware, my imagination has leaped beyond cynicism to actually consider meatbops as the logical next evolutionary step.

Reviews of Rucker's novels have called him "Master of the crazy scenario" (Locus), and "Stimulating and Amusing" (San Jose Mercury News), but they have certainly not called him "prophetic." While it is true that much of what he envisions as a "meatbop" world could not possibly be realized in our lifetime (unless the Moon gets colonized very soon), the evolutionary ideology cannot be laughed off so easily. As Berenice tells Cobb III:

One could legitimately regard the sequence human-bopper-meatbop as a curious but inevitable zigzag in evolution's mighty stream. (p.73)

She has a point. Evolution, if it has taught us anything, has everything to do with survival of the fittest and mutation. In Rucker's future, the smarter, faster, more dynamic boppers are the "fittest" beings around. A similar trend is developing around us here on earth as well.

The "meatbop" idea further emphasizes the Darwinian notion of how species mutate through mating, with the strongest specimens merging the best of one another to create the next generation. In Wetware, however, such Natural Selection seems less "natural" largely because the mutation is a conscious plan devised by the boppers. With Della Taze providing the first human test womb, we know this is not Mother Nature's accident. Nevertheless, I would argue that this revolutionary introduction of Conscious Selection ultimately makes more sense for the world we live in.

If any "species" is going to come along and challenge the human race for intellectual superiority on Earth, the battle will be technological, not Natural - be it with either weapons of mass-destruction or weapons of the mind. Humans will not simply wake up one day to find themselves on the verge of extinction. The boppers, in fact, have a specific plan: "We want to beat them [humans] at their own game," the bopper Loki tells Cobb III, "and outbreed them into extinction" (73). This should be the definition of "Conscious Evolutionary Selection" (or Mutation, for that matter). Humans do have something to offer boppers, muddled though we may be, and in the future we may even be thankful that they want to include us in their future.

Sure, I might sound crazy buying into Rucker's imagination, and maybe not even he believes it could happen. But why not? How much ground have humans given to computers and AI in the last twenty years. Is Big Blue (the Chess machine) just one of the first steps, or is it an abberation? We may neither want computers to wrest control of the planet from our hands, nor may we be able to even truly envision such an upheaval. But how often has change in Earth's history gone according to the plans of one species?

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