Hacked and Modified Brains

Michael Kim '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

As seen throughout philosophy and history, people have always questioned reality and the existence of their souls. Most have come to the conclusion that reality is what they perceive through their senses and that their experiences in reality are what make up their memories and souls. However, what would happen in a society in which everyone’s brain was hooked up into a sea of information permanently? This issue was addressed in the anime movie Ghost in the Shell when the an artificial intelligence known as the Puppet Master hacks into people’s ghosts, or brains, and modifies their memory. These people with modified ghosts then do crimes unknowingly. One such character was a garbageman who believed that he was going through a divorce. He thought he was ghost-hacking his wife, but instead he was carrying out the orders of the Puppet Master and hacking into a government official’s brain. When taken to the extreme, the Puppet Master could theoretically hack into anyone’s ghost and then brainwash them, creating an army that believed in its cause completely.

In a world where brains can be hacked and bodies are engineered, it’s not that far-fetched to imagine beings made with implanted memories. In the film Blade Runner, replicants are beings who have been genetically engineered and artificially created. Rachael, an experimental replicant, was made with memories implanted in her brain, causing her to believe that she was a human being. This implanted memory gave her humanity, making it harder to determine whether or not she was a replicant. Deckard, a blade runner, uses a Voight-Kampff to decide if she was a human being. However, instead of the usual twenty to thirty questions it takes to ascertain if someone is a replicant, it takes over one hundred for her. Although she wasn’t originally a human being, her intelligence and memories gave her humanity, and in the end, she and Deckard fall in love. This raises the question of what determines a person’s humanity. Is it the physical body, memories, or intelligence?

Course Website cyborg Body & Self Literature

Last modified 31 October 2006