Rucker, Gibson, and AI
A little while ago we read a book from Rucker's Ware trilogy, a traditional cyberpunk novel involving most of the genre's major topics: alien presence, excessive drug use, enhanced prosthetic technologies, etc. Although a lot of the book fell into unoriginal avenues of discussion, I found certain general aspects of the book fairly interesting, chief among those the phenomenon of the Boppers. By Boppers I am of course referring to a hive-mind race that sharply contrasts to the individualistic bent that can be seen in every facet of humanity. Sadly, Rucker doesn't handle this contrast in a manner that lends itself to much analysis: the Boppers were the bad guys, and we (ta-da!), the humans, were good ones.
For a better discussion however, we can look back a few months to the Neuromancer saga, and to its two famous Ais. At its heart Neuromancer is a creative (for its time), thoughtful drama that imbues all the characters with realistic, human qualities. This tendency in Gibson's writing applies even to the AI intelligences in the trilogy, Wintermute and Neuromancer. Although this does make for an interesting plot line and easy empathy with the mechanized duo, it doesn't challenge the reader. Here we may have found one of the things that Rucker did do (or at least, tried to do) right. Even though the Boppers weren't entirely fleshed out, they were alien. We can probably ascribe Gibson's humanized treatment of the vast computer intelligences to his shockingly nontechnical history before he wrote Neuromancer, and we can find an opposite reason for Rucker's opposite treatment, but I don't think that their technological expertise is important here. What is important is what each does with such discourse. A sentiment I tried to describe in my previous essay on the subject of AI and one which is beautifully laid out in Steve Cook's essay -- namely, an unwillingness to acknowledge fundamentally different forms of consciousness in culture today. (By saying culture I'm probably making the sphere of debate larger than it should be, this topic is genrally so obscure that only a few sci fi authors ever broach it.)
By limiting our treatments of alternative consciousness we unwittingly close doors to what it means to be fully human. That is, without something outside of our system of evaluation by which to measure our development, how can we maintain (or even reach) a point by which we can predict our progress? It is important to note that, even if everyone on earth accepted the necessity for such an alternative viewpoint on existence, we would still have to find some means by which to generate texts on the subject. To fufill this claim, I continue to hold my old belief that we need only lower the filtering mechanism that usually keeps us locked into our own ideologically defined realms and try looking. And by looking, I do not neccessarily mean thinking logically, for that presupposes too much about what it is we seek; I mean that the search should try its best to take nothing for granted. The universe is a large place, full of things that will defy our definitions, mock our mental organization, but also make us wiser. I think it's time we started paying attention to them.
[To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's - Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]