Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cyberpunk: Neuromancer -- Artificial Intelligence

     "The time has been, That, when the brains were out, the man would die, And there an end; but now they rise again, With twenty mortal murders on their crowns, And push us from our stools"

-- Macbeth

     The main character, the uber-hacker Case, and his girlfriend, Molly,  who has Wolverine blades that shoot out from her knuckles, break into a conglomerate to steal the ROM construct of Case's dead mentor.  They need the assistance of this mentor for the performance of their real job, helping an artifical intelligence named Wintermute(named after the translator of the Nag Hammadi Library) merge with another artificial intelligence named Neuromancer(Neuro, Romancer, and Necromancer jammed together).

     The nickname of the mentor's construct is Flatline; his real name is Dixie McCoy:
"It was disturbing to think of the Flatline as a construct, a hardwired ROM cassette replicating a dead man's skills, obsessions, knee-jerk responses...."(N, 72)

Below is a conversation between Case and the ROM construct:

"He[Case] coughed. "Dix? McCoy? That you man?" His throat was tight.

"Hey, bro," said a directionless voice.
"It's Case, man, Remember?"
"Miami joeboy, quick study."
"What's the last thing you remember before I spoke to you, Dix?"
"Nothin'."
"Hang on." He disconnected the construct.  The presence was gone.  He reconnected it.  "Dix?
Who am I?"
"You got me hung, Jack....
"Remember being here, a second ago?"
"No."
"Know how a ROM personality matrix works?"
....
"Okay, Dix.  You ARE a ROM construct. Got me?"
"If you say so."
"Who are you?"
"Case."
"Miami,"
"joeboy, quick study."
[a joeboy is some kind of assistant to an underground mob/hacker boss type]

Notice that in the middle of the conversation Case disconnects the construct and then, I think as a kind of test, restarts the conversation.  The construct remembers nothing from the previous instantiation.  I'm guessing that because it's ROM, nothing can be added to the memory;  thus this personality is frozen in the state it was when it was recorded.  According to wikipedia, Neuromancer is able to construct RAM personalities, which means the personalities can grow.

   Also notice that Flatline responds with "If you say so" when told he is a ROM construct.  I take this to mean that Flatline is actually floating in mental space, unaware of where it is physically; it hovers, unable to construct new narratives about its experience. Then it can just be shut off.  This is extremely creepy and well done.

     I will think about the connection between the artificial intelligences and Gnosticism in the meantime.  Apparently this is also an homage to a character in Phillip K. Dick's VALIS books:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VALIS

Later in the book we will see the threat a merger between Wintermute and Neuromancer is thought to pose.

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