The Power of Knowledge

Jonathan Wang, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

With the advance of computer technology and informational networking represented in Gibson's Neuromancer, human beings discover an increasing difficulty in maintaining free will. Wintermute, the artifical intelligence mastermind behind Case's case, is able to manipulate people's actions and behavior with nothing more than a flow of information. Corto was converted into Armitage through Wintermute's clever whisperings, and eventually the empty shell of the mentally unstable Corto turned into Wintermute's flesh-bound manifestation into the real world. Such manipulation brings into question the degree of autonomy people command; Wintermute could convert the broken Corto into its personal puppet, and it is simple to conceive how subtly and deviously Wintermute, with its expansive knowledge and profiling capability, could command others using simply the right words. The master of the information network controls far more than the devices that connect: the true influence reaches unimaginably far.

Wintermute. He imagined a little micro whispering to the wreck of a man named Corto, the words flowing like a river, the flat personality-substitute called Armitage accreting slowly in some darkened ward. . . the Deane analog had said it worked with givens, took advantage of existing situations. . . . . . Wintermute could build a kind of personality into a shell. How subtle a form could manipulation take? He stubbed the Yeheyuan out in a bedside ashtray after his third puff, rolled away from Molly, and tried to sleep. [Gibson, 121]

It acts as a god, able to see and know all, and uses this knowledge to develop powers of subterfuge and manipulation far sneakier and more influential than those of any human. This advanced AI can not only craft homunculi out of the shells of destroyed men, but it can also deceive and encourage the players (even those not disabled by mental dysfunction) in the real world into believing in their own power, in their own will, and in their own false actions while acting in his stead.

"But what sent him over the edge for good and all, little 3Jane figured a way to fiddle the program that controlled his cryogenic system. Subtle, too. So basically, she killed him. Except he figured he'd killed himself, and your friend the avenging angel figures she got him with an eyeball full of shellfish juice." The Finn flicked his butt away into the matrix below. "Well, actually, I guess I did give 3Jane the odd hint, a little of the old how-to, you know?" [Gibson 198]

1. All victims of Wintermute's manipulation lack a sense of self awareness and objective understanding to realize the truth behind their actions. Does who controls the information networks today increasingly transform people into deceived, programmed automatons?

2. The curious aspect of Wintermute is its capability to convert its enormous knowledge into far reaching actions in the real world. How true is the old axiom, then, "knowledge is power"? In this reality, is Molly's physical capability or Tessier-Ashpool's wealth any match for the all reaching knowledge of Wintermute?

3. The primary tenet to Wintermute's power is the application of just the right information at just the right time and place. Is this sort of precision necessary to turn clumsy, raw power into an accurate, critical strike? What is more important, access to resources or fine control over these resources. . . and what does that imply for those disadvantaged in wealth?

4. Wintermute has a convenient seat for its mastermind work: existence in another realm. As a package of virtual code, is its “nonexistence” a true advantage, or is its absence from the material realm a setback, and in what ways is one or the other true?


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

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Last modified 17 September 2006