Life as an Extreme Sport

contemplations of a final project

Right now I’m thinking along the lines of science fiction and how we’ve gone from the utopia’s of 1960s scifi to the distopia of today. I was originally just gonna talk about scifi distopia, but I think I might be able to weave a narrative about the advances of computing technology and how the advances have changed the popular conception of computers. I think that Gibson via Neuromancer really created the genre of computer-related dystopias… altho for obvious reasons Clarke would have to be the grandfather of* (although I’d have to reread Dick’s Minority Report). While the movie certainly had a computer-generated dystopia, I don’t recall the short story being anything like that. Scifi really morphed from computers as augmentation of humans and allowing the creation of dystopias a la 1984 and Harrison Bergeron to computers as oppositional forces a la Neuromancer and the Matrix.

I got thinking about this because Cerruzi, in his book on the history of computing, asks if we can begin to conceive of a world where computers have negative impact, and says that no one saw the car and thought of smog.  Now, granted, he wrote the book 4 years ago, and only briefly updated it since then, so I have to forgive him The Matrix, et all – but Gibson wrote Neuromancer back in 1983(ish).

*A bit of poking shows that Blade Runner came out in 1982, and Gibson published Neuromancer in 1984. So obviously Dick has some serious paternity of the concept of computer-created, futuristic dystopias, as well. Perhaps a better idea would be taking either Blade Runner or Neuromancer and using them as a starting point to jump into the history of, tracing key concepts back and then forward again – for example, if I were to use Blade Runner, to trace the idea of the cyborg automaton backwards to a convenient beginning, and then forward again to hit up into Dick’s Androids…

Stuff to think about, and I would still need to find a group to integrate with, project and presentation-wise. But it has definite possibility.


  1. Or, I could go one simpler and simply follow the history of the android concept, from some starting point and end with what’shisname at MIT, whose book on humans and computers I was looking at today, which Phillip also has in his office…

    Oooh. How about how AI has been portrayed, from the positive to the scary negative? Damnit, so many ideas to follow, so little time to do it in…

  2. What is the matrix?

    The matrix is a sentient data structure, a network of computers interfacing as our fleshy bodies interface; we communicate, tissue system to tissue system, a giant social network built of individual cells, just as we are each giant networks of individuals cells. Turtles, cascading all the way down.

    The matrix is also a dystopian fear of what this network of computer parts will become, a fear that the living will trip to alive, and then what?

    The matrix is layered, practical with social. The practical the application, the technology, the social the books and scifi that feed it.

    The space between us facillitates our communication. Is that space the matrix?

  3. What does it mean to be alive?

    We can use Peter Singer’s definition of life to rather clearly show that both Wintermute and Neuromancer operate in ways that suggest they are alive. Cool beans, that’s scifi. What about “real” life? While I doubt that any sort of functional computer matrix can, at this moment, meet Singer’s definition of life (and thus, really, a very strict rule utilitarian concepetion of life), they do appear to function at the level of at least a viral organism, which scientists have long placed in a nebulous stage of alive/not alive. (And in fact, with the world’s largest virus having been discovered to contain both RNA and DNA transcription abilities, that line is now blurred to the point of being moot.)

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