Ghost in the Shell Thrills but Ducks the Philosophical Questions Posed by a Cyborg Future
Prescott, Tony. "Ghost in the Shell Thrills but Ducks the Philosophical Questions Posed by a Cyborg Future." The Conversation 3 April 2017. On line.
Prescott is identified in a sidebar to the article as "Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Director of the Sheffield Robotics Institute, University of Sheffield" and discusses briefly and cogently how in an advanced human cyborg, "Our biological brain – the 'ghost' in the 'shell' – would interface via neural implants to powerful embedded computers that would give us lightening fast reactions and heightened powers of reasoning, learning and memory." This is a possibility examined in the Ghost in the Shell series of works. "First written as a Manga comic series in 1989 during the early days of the internet, Ghost in the Shell’s creator, Japanese artist Masamune Shirow, foresaw that this brain-computer interface would overcome the fundamental limitation of the human condition: that our minds are trapped inside our heads. In Shirow’s transhuman future our minds would be free to roam, relaying thoughts and imaginings to other networked brains, entering via the cloud into distant devices and sensors, even 'deep diving' the mind of another in order to understand and share their experiences." On the negative side, "Shirow’s stories also pin-pointed some of the dangers of this giant technological leap. In a world where knowledge is power, these brain-computer interfaces would create new tools for government surveillance and control, and new kinds of crime such as 'mind-jacking' – the remote control of another’s thoughts and actions." Additionally, there is "a spiritual side to Shirow’s narrative: that the cyborg condition might be the next step in our evolution, and that the widening of perspective and the merging of individuality from a networking of minds could be a path to enlightenment."
As indicated by his title, Prescott finds the 2017 live-action GHOST timid in dealing with such issue of seriously philosophical SF. "Sadly though, Sanders’ movie pulls its punches around the core question of how this technology could change the human condition. Indeed, if casting Western actors in most key roles wasn’t enough, the new film also engages in a form of cultural appropriation by superimposing the myth of the American all-action hero – who you are is defined by what you do – on a character who is almost the complete antithesis of that notion." For Prescott, "The 1995 anime insists that we are individuals only because of our memories. While the new film retains much of the same story line, it refuses to follow the inference. Rather than being defined by our memories, Major’s voice tells us that 'we cling to memories as if they define us, but what we do defines us.'" For Prescott, this idea is both confusing and unfaithful to the spirit of the original tale."
Given Prescott's background and appreciation of "networked minds" in our world, and his confidence that "Brain-computer interfaces are also on their way," he finds it disappointing that GHOSTS 2017 "backs away from another key idea of Shirow’s work, that the human mind – even the human species – are, in essence, information. Where the 1995 anime talked of the possibility of leaving the physical body – the shell – elevating consciousness to a higher plane and 'becoming part of all things', the remake has only veiled hints that such a merging minds, or a melding of the human mind with the internet, could be either positive or transformational."
Significantly for background on cyberpunk works and all art dealing with AI, Prescott ends his review informing us — with only a touch of academic advertising — that currently, "In terms of artificial intelligence, the work in my lab at Sheffield Robotics explores the possibility of building robot analogues of human memory for events and experiences. The fusion of such systems with the human brain is not possible with today’s technology – but it is imaginable in the decades to come. […] Such technologies may be on the horizon, and science fiction imaginings such as Ghost in the Shell suggest that their power to fundamentally change the human condition should not be underestimated."
RDE, Initial Compiler, 05/IV/17