Two bits or not two bits

Matt Haxby '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

William Gibson's Neuromancer world of sentient computers and personality constructs of deceased humans blurs the line between life and death almost beyond recognition. For Gibson, the EEG has replaced the EKG as the most accurate life-monitor, with braindeath being the only death to really fear. In the case of Armitage, a human who has had his personality replaced by an AI, the line becomes blurred to the point where it is a matter of opinion as to whether a walking, thinking human can always be considered alive.

"Thing is," he said, "do you think he knows he was Corto, before? I mean, he wasn't anybody in particular, by the time he hit the ward, so maybe Wintermute just . . . "

"Yeah. Built him up from go. Yea . . . " She turned and walked on. "It figures. You know, the guy doesn't have any life going, in private. Not as far as I can tell. You see a guy like that, you figure there's something he does when he's alone. But not Armitage. Sits and stares at the wall, man. Then something clicks and he goes into high gear and wheels for Wintermute." [Gibson 91]


1. Would you consider Pauley McCoy, a personality construct of a deceased cyberjockey, more or less alive than Armitage? More or less human?

2. Death appears to be a trivial matter in much of the novel and murder a guilt-free crime. Is Gibson trying to reinforce the similarities between man and machine, making death seem a mere shutdown?

3. Could Armitage be considered a human offspring of the artificial intelligence Wintermute?

4. Does the possibility of a downloaded personality, as in the ROM construct of Pauley McCoy and the AI Neuromancer's cyber-afterlife, provide a cheap form of immortality? Or is it more of a cheap form of cloning?


Gibson, William Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1984.

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Last modified 17 September 2006