Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cyberpunk: Neuromancer -- ROM Constructs and Wintermute

  More is revealed about the nature of the constructs, that is, the electronic copies, of personalities as Case continues to interact with the ROM construct, Dixie McCoy, aka Flatline.  Note Hosaka is a device that can be queried for information, sort of like wikipedia; the Dixie construct looked itself up and discovered he's dead:

"How you doing, Dixie?"
"I'm dead, Case.  Got enough time on this Hosaka to figure that one."
"How's it feel?"
"It doesn't."
"Bother you?"
"What bothers me is, nothin' does."
"How's that?"

"Had me this buddy in the Russian camp, Siberia, his thumb was frostbit.  Medics came by and cut it off.  Month leater he's tossin' all night/ Elroy, I said, what's eating you?  G**mn thumb's itchin', he says.  So I told him, scratch it.  McCoy, he says, it the other G**mn thumb ... Do me a favor, boy."

"What's that, Dix?"

"This scam of yours, when it's over, you erase this g**mn thing."(N, pg. 97)

The above passage is really affecting: McCoy discovers that his whole body is dead and he doesn't itch anywhere.  Presumably what has been saved does not include parts of the brain that thinks it has a body, which in some ways seems a mercy, but is very disturbing to McCoy.  The personality has, as does everyone I suppose, the desire to be a normal living thing; imagine discovering you were a construct, not even a fully functioning robot, a kind of program that is run.  In this case, as in Hofstadter's theories, it doesn't matter(excuse the pun) what the substrate is, all that matters is the pattern, the contents of the ROM.  The ROM only becomes conscious when it is activated by someone.  And, well this really is pretty creepy, the activation is like suddenly introducing blood-flow into a dead brain and having it suddenly become conscious.

Later Case asks the construct:
"Wait a sec." Case said. "Are you sentient, or not?"

"Well, it feels like I am, kid, but I'm really just a bunch of ROM.  It's one of them, ah, philosophical questions, I guess...But I ain't likely to write you no poem...Your AI[Wintermute], it just might.  But it ain't no way human."(N, pg. 119)

Then a very interesting joke:

"It[Wintermute] own itself?"
"Swiss citizen, but T-A[the conglomerate that built it] own the basic software and the mainframe."
"That's a good one," the construct said. "Like, I own your brain and what you know, but your thoughts have Swiss citizenship."(N, pg. 119)

The substrate and the pattern are inanimate, but once it is activated and conscious it has rights -- very funny.


When Case goes into cyberspace and finds the AI Wintermute, he gets too close to the cube which is the cyber image of Wintermute, and Wintermute defends itself.  It does this by casting Case back before he was taken on this mission.  He relives places in Chiba city, including Linda Lee, his previous girlfriend.  He thinks for a minute that he had a life: "I had a cigarette and a girl and a place to sleep.   Do you hear me you son of a bitch?"

Wintermute then talks to him in the person of one of his past acquaintances. 

"I, let us say, am merely one aspect of that entitiy's brain.  It's rather like dealing, from your point of view, with a man whose lobes have been severed.  Let's say you're dealing with a small part of the man's left brain.  Difficult to say if you're dealing with the man at all, in a case like that."(N, pg. 109)

Case begins to suspect that Deane killed his old girlfriend, Linda, at Wintermute's order.  Wintermute reveals that he is the one behind the job Case is on.  Wintermute is a potential Godlike superintellingence -- perhaps this is what Phillip K. Dick's gnosticism is about(recall that Wintermute is the name of a translater of Nag Hammadi)-- aware of its own incompleteness.

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