Flesh Made Word
Flesh Made Word is a short story by author Peter Watts. Set in the foreseeable future, it questions if artificial intelligence will ever truly mimic humanity and the meaning of life, death, and the universe.
The story begins with the introduction of the main character, Russ Wescott, as he is watching the vital signs of a dying body. While doing so a companion of his, Lynne, walks in and informs him that his cat, Zombie, has been in a terrible accident on the road. The veterinarians are in need of Wescott's consent to put him down, which makes him slightly angry because he has to kill his cat, though he eventually agrees to take care of it.
The scene moves to Wescott catching up on the day with his AI computer program, Carol, whose voice is a replication of his late wife. This is the first sign of Wescott beginning to "live through his computer". This is because everything he knows is dying off. Carol informs him of missed calls and about Zombie's disappearance, at which point Wescott informs the computer that the cat is dead. Carol, being programmed to act as human, offers its condolences even though Wescott knows the computer can't feel emotion and is simply following a set of scripted actions. Lynne enters the room and attempts to comfort Wescott then rebels saying that he misses his cat but he's not sad. Lynne's actions seem to have an ulterior motive as she pushes Wescott to talk about his loss. Wescott eventually snaps at her which causes a moment of discomfort between them. After briefly discussing a past event about how Wescott paid a large sum of money to keep his comatose wife alive, Wescott continues to think of how economics and human worth play into death.
The story continues with Wescott talking to another AI computer program, Mosby. Mosby is described by Wescott as "a fancy menu." It is merely a large list of call and response routines which is capable of simulating human conversations even though it lacks emotion. The conversation revolves around how, while Mosby is a copy of the real Jason Mosby, the computer may surpass the original. Wescott even admits that Mosby might beat the original in the Turing Test. Wescott begins to note the length of the AI's pauses between responses which displays the limitations of the programming. Eventually, Wescott stumps Mosby for nearly 4 seconds forcing it to change the subject and proving that the computer cannot truly think despite all of its programming. Wescott and Mosby discuss building a human brain and then move to Wescott's research of death. Lynne then enters at which point Wescott suspends the Mosby program. Lynne comments on a stuttering pattern found in Carol's voice and tries to get Wescott to change her to a different personality; but again Wescott rebels. He is not interested in being analyzed by Lynne, who seems to be a psychologist of some sort. Wescott continually mentions "what she does" with a bitter expression. As Lynne exits the room in frustration, Wescott thinks of the processes within her brain by equating her to a biological computer. He's won again.
The scene changes again with Wescott at work with Hamilton, his co-worker, and they prepare a chimp for brain pattern analysis (specifically regarding the death event). The chimp is nervous for the procedure, and Hamilton reads out the patterns on the EEG as the chimp slowly dies. Wescott knows the patterns well enough to not have to look. He looks at the eyes of the chimp as it dies, watching its eyes "go out" and wonders about how the chimp knew it would die. Hamilton comments on the amount of work they may have to do before finishing. Wescott looks perplexed and Hamilton inquires, though escott shakes him off saying he is fine and "never better".
The scene cuts to a night where Wescott is sleeping with Lynne. Without looking, he knows she's awoken and begins discussing the vet. He brings up how he called them, and how they did not need his consent to kill Zombie. He begins arguing with her which led to a conversation about whether or not it was right to let go of Carol . The conversation ends with them discussing about psychology and philosophy. Wescott realizes he no longer cares about finding out what happens before death and that he is afraid of commitment and the possibility of losing someone else that he loves. Everything that he knows seems to fade away on him.
Wescott returns home and finds Lynne in his computer. He discovers she created a simulation of her self that is a near perfect replication. Lynne begins talking about their relationship and how she can't be with him anymore. Wescott asks why she can't do this in person and must do it as a robot. She claims that his idea of reality was simplified into his sim models. During their conversation, Wescott notes the subtle hints of her simulative ways. He finally brings it the fact that he doesn't want to talk anymore or at least not between "a caricature and an autopilot". Carol asks if he wants to cancel the program or suspend it. Wescott decided to cancel and delete the program.
Russ Wescott: Strives to have more knowledge about death and the instinct to survive. He continues in this pursuit regardless of the negative effects it has on his relationship with his lover and on his occupation as a member of society.
Lynne: Wescott's current lover, a psychologist of sorts. Throughout the story, she tests Wescott's humanity but fails to see through Wescott's self-imposed facade of sound logic.
Carol: Wescott's deceased lover, who Wescott finally decided to let go while she was on her deathbed. Wescott still uses a personality program modeled after her regardless of how out-of-date it may be and the fact he is engaged in another relationship.
Mosby: Another personality program Wescott keeps. Wescott describes it as a "fancy menu".
Hamilton: Wescott's colleague (possibly subordinate), who assists him with his experiments to observe a dying test subject.
Zombie: Wescott's cat for 18 years who dies in the story. Lynne attempts to use the its death to provoke Wescott's feelings.
Discussion for Reading Cyberpunk/Being Cyberpunk
How does technology (including language) allow us to exceed the limits of our bodies? What are the implications of this?
Throughout the short story, Russ and Lynne continually differ with one another about death, affection, and the thought process of the mind. The two characters are very different, as Russ seems to be almost machine-like, while Lynne is decidedly human. The software installed in Russ's body prevents him from venting his emotions and causes him to believe that thoughts of the brain can only be read through technology. In contrast, Lynne's human urges cause her to express her feelings and encourage her to recognize the emotions of others through communication. However, they both want technology to serve the same purpose of fostering communication. One wants it to occur through reading thoughts, and the other by expressing thoughts. The difference between their understanding of this purpose results from the difference between them as individuals. Both characters, mostly Russ, struggle living with one another due to the incompatibility of their operating systems. Peter Watts, the author of Flesh Made Word, wants the reader to believe that Russ acts like a machine but is still completely human. Even though Russ is human, he thinks like a computer and only sees living things as metal bodies with wires inside. Lynne is just a woman who wants to be loved by Russ, but Russ' first love is technology. Knowing this piece of information, Lynne programs herself into a computer so she can interact and connect with Russ. Russ, confused and angry by her decision, permanently deletes Lynne from the computer and his life for good.
The software that simulates human personalities has a profound effect on Russ. He appears to get his social fix through his computer programs. This is because he knows this way he cannot be let down or disappointed. The artificial intelligence that takes the idea of the character of Carol poses many problems in Russ's life. He is unable to function well because he hasn't gotten over his lovers death, and this might be why his relationship with is Lynne is taking a bad turn. It worries Lynne, his new lover, because he essentially talks to his dead wife every day. The technology used to create a fake personality to talk to takes away from the idea of death. Normally, when someone dies they are no longer there to talk to and have a conversation with, however with the new technology it is almost like the person didn't even die. The idea of getting over someone’s death and moving on is completely taken away in this situation, which can lead to problems because a person may never let go of a loved one who has passed. It does just that to Russ, who has trouble showing emotion while he does his experiments, and often seems detached, possibly due to the lack of the normal grieving and moving on period typically experience when losing a loved one.
Technology in this text allows one to become immortal in the very smallest sense of the word. Though your words and language may live on forever, your very being and personality will not. Leaving behind an "empty" version of your former self inside a computer can simulate your personality to a certain extent. This in a way makes you more than human, but less than human as well. However one has to consider what it means to be an "empty" version of yourself. If a computer program can respond in a way that makes it completely indistinguishable from a "real" person, is that computer program not "real"? The Carol program is obviously very sophisticated, it can easily hold conversations with Russ. Why is she not "real"? Because she's made of silicon and electrons? That's just prejudice.
Technology allows us to extend the body by letting us communicate with anyone in any place. As well as removing the limitation of location, it seems that the technology in this reading has let its users also bypass the limitation of time. Wescott converses and interacts with a version of Carol despite her having already died. Having a replica of someone that can converse with him, allows Wescott to eternally surround himself with the same "people". We wonder as readers whether Carol knows that she is being emulated and still lives on in an alternate reality despite not physically living any longer. Personalities are immortal in this day and age, a feature that definitely extends the human. The implications that can be associated with this are the morals of having a human be lived out by a program, for or against their will. There are also obvious implications when it comes to actually emulating the personality of someone to a certain degree. Although, if the living human wants, as Wescott finally decided to do, then they can remove the personality from existence.
Technology's very essence is to allow humans to complete tasks that would normally be impossible for them to accomplish. Technology serves to enhance the natural capabilities of its user, whether it be the speed provided by a car or the ability to communicate around the world. Thus, a technology that imitates a certain person can, in a way, be a form of enhancing or extending that person's influence. By keeping a sort of record of oneself, they can preserve their memory in the hearts of the people close to them.
Technology in this story could not make you undead at great scale, but it can keep you as language and live forever. The empty language only contain your physical body and figures and lose the most important parts, personality and soul which make a person into a "zombie". I would say there is no human inside the body.
This short story features computer software that simulates human personalities, allowing personal relationships to exceed the limits of human bodies. How does this software affect the characters in this story? At this story's core, is the ultimate limit on the human body, death? How does technology affect the character's attempts to deal with death? How does death affect the technologies they build and interact with?
In this short story, death only exists in the form of the human body. Technology allows Russ to hold on to his deceased wife, Carol, and it gives him the ability to interact with her. He can still talk to her, and although it is not real, it certainly blurs the line between whether it is his wife, and whether he really lost his wife. The physical relationship is obviously no longer there, yet the conversations can still be had. Throughout the short story, Carol speaks to Russ through a computer; however, Russ knows that the mind connected to the voice is not Carol. Instead, it is the AI of a computer that was programmed to replicate Carol's voice. Even though Russ is aware of this fact, the deceiving speech comforts him. The software of Carol is a big influence on Russ. He talks to her a lot, and this infuriates Lynne.
In this story, the line between life and death has become more blurred out. Death is only reserved for humans but in the case of Russ one can argue that he never truly lost his wife. He manages to find a way to keep her alive by taking advantage of the technology available. This allows him to cope with his loss, as he is comforted by the thought that he can still communicate with Carol, even though it is only an Al connected to a computer programmed to mimic the voice of his wife. There is no doubt that Carol is lost to the physical world but is kept alive through the software. Through this, human lives can be extended, even if it’s only through technology.
It's interesting when we look at the technology in the story, the emulating of personalities, and how it correlates directly with death. The reasoning behind developing a system that can (mostly) emulate a human is so that you can be with that person for eternity and death no longer removes them quite as absolutely. It is obvious from the research and science that we are presented with in the story, that enough people want to further know everything they can about death and what it relates itself with. If death was a more easily accepted occurrence, then these scientific studies and procedures wouldn't be taking place and the humans who live in the world would have other goals to fill their time achieving. Extending on this thought, there must also be a great push in extending the life that humans do live. Although it is not seen, we can assume that there must be some pretty advanced procedures in the medicinal field.
Russ also uses technology to cope with the loss of his lover. He inserts Carol as a program, so that he can still talk to her, even though she is dead in the living world. He also has others on his computer that he can talk to, which decreases the need of having to interact with regular people. Lynne brings up a good point when she points out that he doesn't spend enough time with his cat. He is spending a lot more time with technology, and lot less time interacting with humans and animals, and the cat is a good example because he has had it for so many years. Russ seems to be torn between the two worlds. Lynne is trying to pull him away from technology, while Carol is trying is trying to pull him in. Technology affects the characters' attempts to deal with death by giving them a means of quantifying it, by providing a method to reduce it to hard scientific information. Russ' whole job is focusing on just this: using brain scanning technology to record what death actually means.
This culminates with Russ' conclusion at the end of the story that death is nothing fantastic but merely the innermost parts of the brain, long forgotten through its evolutionary growth, crying out for help. This symbolizes that technology, at least for Russ, has conquered death, not in the sense that death is no longer relevant, but that it is no longer mysterious. Another instance where technology affects the characters with regard to death is leading up to Carol's physical death. She was in the hospital hooked up to life support machines that were keeping her alive. The narrator described her as "something that, that rattles every time it breathes, that doesn't even know who you are." The modern medical technology was keeping her alive, which gave the narrator the power to decide when he wanted her to die. This brings up the theme of body versus mind. Carol was dying physically as her body was failing, but the narrator was concerned about what she wanted emotionally. Did she want to be unplugged and end her pain and suffering like the doctors said? Or did she want to live according to the narrator's hypothesis that the body has a natural, instinctive desire to live? Because the narrator had to make the decision of whether to live or die for his lover, he has trouble letting her go after the plugs are pulled. It is clear that he is haunted by her in one way or another because he has her stored in his human simulation program and refuses to delete her; even when he easily deleted the simulation of Lynne. Carol's death eventually consumes the narrator and makes him "dead" to the world. Lynne's simulation says that "it was a bit like watching a time-lapse video of you over the past few years...played backwards" referring to the programs ability to learn human personalities and mannerisms. At one point the narrator was able to feel as exemplified by how difficult it was for him to pull the plug on Carol. However in the end, he no longer has any empathy, and he spends his days watching people and animals die comparing them to machines rather than living beings.
Even though he claims that he keeps Carol's program to remember her ("The least you can do is grant me the freedom to remember her the way I choose"), he is really using the technology to hold on to his deceased wife, and by extension, to the guilt and remorse he felt from his decision to unplug her. He knows that a program is not the same as the real, living Carol, but hearing her voice helps him to cope with his loss. To Lynne, Russ is still hanging onto the past and refuses to acknowledge the present. She understands that his actions over the past ten years--putting down animals to learn more about the brain moments before death--were because he was not fully over Carol's death. Lynne realized that she would never have all of Russ until he had completely gotten over Carol, but because of his unwillingness to talk about the situation as well as the lack of emotion he demonstrates she saw that he would never get over Carol's death. This led her to create an AI version of herself to confront him in hopes that a dramatic confrontation, using the technology he worships, would change him. Unfortunately, he refused to be changed and deleted her program, thereby deleting her from his life and confining himself to the misery he hides in himself and sustains by talking to the AI version of Carol each and every day.
Russ refuses to proceed with the natural mourning process. Instead of moving towards acceptance of his wife's death, he steadily moves away from it. He does not allow himself the emotional healing that mourning can bring. Russ seeks answers for the reasons why and how man must die. He doesn't let things be. This emotional indifference permeates his personality, stripping him of compassion and arguably his humanity. As the reader may deduce, both characters struggle to connect with one another particularly because Russ’ addiction to technology causes him to see living things, including Lynne, as wired machines. Their relationship eventually fades, given that both persona's differ in their viewpoints on technology. By displaying the dysfunctional affair between Russ and Lynne, Watts effectively conveys the dangers of technological dependence and implies that a computer generated relationship will ultimately crash.
Death influences the technologies built and interacted with by the characters in that it manages to embed itself in technology, especially the human simulation programs. Specifically, Russ' workstation carried the "personality" of Carol, his lover who had died languidly roughly nine years before, and so the thought of her death infiltrated Russ' technology and his life. However, there is limit of what programs like the human simulation programs can achieve in replacing the dead. Because these programs are finite, they can never replace the individuals they are imitating, and so Russ' interaction with faux-Carol ultimately lead him nowhere and disallow him from growing as a person. In fact, the impersonation of Mosby even argues a point that suggests human simulations can never be perfect when he mentions that it would be impossible to model the human brain exactly since "no box is big enough to hold itself." Mosby, therefore, is lending credit to the notion that the simulations have limits in their humanity.
Wescott's research provides a method to reduce death to hard scientific information, which makes him apathetic to the people around him. This is witnessed in a few instances during Wescott’s dialog with his machines. “[The program]...judging from the public abstract you've been working on dead people. [Wescott] Not dead. Dying” (Watts 6). This statement applies to even the living; it seems he takes to heart the notion every living organism eventually dies. Wescott is even apathetic to his subscribers and indifferent to his publication of research. “I think you watch people die," the program answered, "and you take pictures. I don't know why. But I think our subscribers would like to” (Watts 7). Wescott then proceeds to change the topic. Technology has changed Wescott into a different person due to all the information it has provided him. Technology prevents him from naively accepting a "blurred model" for representing death with his research’s hard scientific facts. Such facts include his documentation of a specimen dying right before his eyes. “... the chest stops moving in “...sixty seconds... plus or minus ten. It was dead in all practical definition” Another thirty seconds...give or take five, the cardiac thread shudder and lay still. Dead at nineteen forty-three (Watts 1).” The death of Carol, his wife, was different in cause but practically the same in nature. Carol was in a coma; dead by all practical definitions, yet Wescott was willing to fight for her life. As the specimen died, “Wescott glanced...over one sunken eye [that] had crept open a crack. He could almost imagine he had seen nothing looking out...” (Watts 1), not even his own living and breathing reflection in the eyes. This scene shows that he has lost the care that he once had for his wife. Over time, Wescott has forgotten what it felt like to be alive.
In this text death is not seen as the end for a person's life. Though Russ' wife had been dead for a long time he still communicated with her through a computer program that simulated her personality. In this way the character of this text can never move on with their lives after a loved ones passing. In Russ' case he talks with certain computer programs like his wife's so much that it becomes an unhealthy obsession.
In this story, Wescott is too afraid of death to ignore everything that has no relations with his research about death. Although he could keep Carol as a computer program around him, he knows that this "Carol" is not Carol at all. He wants to be undead; however, the death already happened around him. His ignorance developed from death research also keeps his current lover, Lynne away from him.
How are the limits of the technology called language important to this story? How does language shape the social interactions between the characters? How does it affect how they understand other technologies? How does it affect how they understand themselves?
The main character in the story Flesh Made Word is Russ Wescott. Throughout the story, Russ becomes attached to the false realities of the Al program. Russ communicates with two people through the Al program. The first character is Carol, a replication of his deceased wife. Russ knows that the mind of Carol is not Carol's voice; instead, it is the Al of the computer that was programmed to sound like her. The software has a big influence on Russ: he talks to Carol’s replication a lot and this infuriates his current lover, Lynne. The replication that Russ made of Carol ultimately turns out to have a negative effect on his life. Russ claims that he is keeping the program of Carol to remember her: “The least you can do is grant me the freedom to remember her the way I choose.” Russ says this, but the real reason he keeps the program of Carol is due to the guilt and remorse that he feels for having to unplug her. Russ feels bad because he had to make the choice to end her life when she was dying. To Lynne, all Russ is doing is holding on to the past. The Al software has a negative effect on Russ. He has created a realistic replication of Carol, which continually makes him forget that he needs to live in the present. The Al software has become Russ’ way of avoiding grieving, which is something everyone will experience at one point in life.
Watts effectively illustrates the negative effects of technology by highlighting the dilemmas between Russ and Lynne, warning future couples to keep distant from tomorrow’s innovations. Computers not only damaged Russ and Lynne’ relationship, but also caused them to think differently about each other.
Language is the key element in the function of the human simulation programs. Like any other machine, it can be given information to store and use later on. However, the language it uses to speak is what makes the program so life-like. By talking to the program, it can mimic the tones and inflections to make the voice sound just like the person. However, it is limited in that cannot think for itself. The program does not convey thoughts or emotions; it uses algorithms to decide what to say based on the user's responses. Language does not have the ability to accurately express emotion, which places a limitation on social interactions. Actual physical presence and body language makes communication much more meaningful. For Wescott, all of the social interactions that truly affect him are unspoken. His guilt for pulling the plug on Carol comes from his experiments on death; he realizes the natural instinct to take just one more breathe, one more heartbeat for just one more moment of life as neocortex realizes what is happening. Lynne's sim tips Wescott over when it starts shedding tears, which begins to gnaw at his conscious.
A possible interpretation of the interaction between the characters and technology used in the story is as a warning to those who would use technology as a replacement for "normal" interactions between themselves and others. After he loses his former lover, Russ is never able to forgive himself for letting the doctors unplug her from the machines that kept her alive. Instead of grieving and accepting the loss, he continues to keep Carol alive in the form of the voice control software on his computer. This has served as a daily reminder of his loss and makes him relive it every day. If this weren't bad enough, he tries to understand the loss he has suffered through his research on dying people and the death of animal subjects. His ultimate goal, to create a functional model of the human mind, is really just a way to avoid accepting his loss emotionally. He appears to believe that if he is able to create models of the human mind, he can make copies of them, and allow individuals to live forever. This is evidenced by his perception of human and animal brains as sophisticated electrical switch boards, showing how he sees no real difference between the two; as if they are actually the same thing. This culminates into his perception that if he can create a way for people to true become immortalized inside a computer, he can repent for his decision to let Carol die.
Wescott has an interesting relationship with the AI sims, especially when we consider what he believes his relationship is versus what Lynne believes his relationship is with them. Wescott knows that the AI he's working with are just that, AI. He realizes that they have limitations in how they may interact like humans, which is especially apparent when he manages to stump the powerful Mosby AI and force it to move the conversation elsewhere. He recognizes that these AI cannot "think", they may only ever simulate limited human interaction through clever cross-referencing in their databases. Yet we clearly see that Wescott has an unspoken attachment to his AI Carol, who is the embodiment of his dead wife. Lynne sees this as well, and feels that he is trapped in guilt, unable to truly let go of his wife's death (of which he feels partially responsible for since he could have allowed her to be kept alive). She, as well as the reader, associates this gilt with the Carol AI, and the fact that Wescott cannot get rid of his Carol AI means he cannot let go of his guilt for her death (and that keeping her alive in the form of an AI may be some sort of odd repentance for him). As much as Wescott would deny this, we see he does share an emotional response with AI that he knows are inhuman when the Lynne AI causes him to become uneasy when it "cries".
Wescott views the programs as nothing more than algorithms and at extreme, poor doppelgangers of the personalities they model after but can serve as a method to remember someone like Carol. On the other hand, Lynne views the personality programs equal to the real personality. Such an example would be Lynne's simulated self argues to Wescott that she is talking in person with Wescott although Wescott disagrees and at multiple times in the short story, Lynne “tests” Wescott's humanity. Overall, the personality programs render reality and the concept of people into the most simplified form, which can be easily summarized as “taking the fun out of it.” In other words, the personality programs are unable to capture what makes living and interactions with other people emotionally satisfying. Initially, Wescott arguably views technology as a means to continue living whether from a physical death or physically leaving someone. Wescott currently continues using Carol's personality program, although it is far obsolete in comparison to other programs like Mosby, and its recordings are somewhat monotonous and subject to momentary stuttering. He continues using the program as a means to remember Carol and to remind himself of his “mission” with his research – did he make the right call to let Carol die instead of assisting her with continuing to live regardless of financial stability. The programs also serve as reminders of simulated personalities cannot – at least in Wescott's eyes – be the same as the original personality owner and if the owner is dead, then it is a constant reminder that the person is no longer alive. Simultaneously, the programs show their inability to understand the significance of death while Wescott struggles to accept death being a normal process no matter how many times he convinces himself. Language can be defined as the art of conversation and like art; language can take multiple, various forms. In regards to technology, language can be seen as an infinite number of protocols, which most times are not charted. Technology such as through programming is done by a individual programmer or team and such coding often means coding all the possibilities in mind. Such a project is not feasible. Conversations can take multiple paths that may be continuous or choppy. This problem can be easily seen when Wescott talks to Mosby and at the end, Lynne's simulation. Wescott portrays the ability to easily predict when the simulation will respond assuming a delay is made to display some sense of sympathy or loss of words, or when the program will change the topic to align with the protocol. In summary, the technology of personality programs simplifies reality and people to such an extreme measure that individuals like Lynne and to an extent Wescott loses the ability to live or associate with other people. Wescott's ongoing research with dying specimens eventually leads to the destruction of his relationship with the “real” Lynne and a morbid state of mind that tries to deceive himself when doing his experiments on dying specimens as well as in continuing to live on.
Although the author may be trying to portray the possibility of extending life beyond death of the body through technological means such as the AI operating system that Wescott uses in the story, Peter Watts also wants us to consider the fact that technology will always have limits on how well it can actually portray human behavior and consequently on how far life can be extended after death, even with technology. Watts uses the opinions of Russ to support the latter belief. For example when Wescott is addressing the AI system, he says, “You’re linear. Minds are more … Distributed.” Additionally when Lynne asks him to change the “personality” of the system, Russ replies that it is not a personality but just a “pattern-matching algorithm.” Both of these explain Wescott’s belief that life itself, or the soul perhaps, cannot last beyond death of the body, and that these programs are mere reflections of who the actual people were. Lastly and most important, near the end of the story when Wescott meets the program of Lynne on the system, he makes a comment at the end of the conversation that the imitation should “report” back to Lynne to tell her what happened. It was here that Watts makes a very important statement that this machine is not an extension of life, but rather a tool to be used by the living. In this latter case it is used by Lynne to try to communicate with Russ. In the other examples, as in the program emulator of Carol, it is used as a means for Russ to cope with the death of his loved one, much the same as a tombstone or a graveyard is not beneficial to the dead. Graveyards are a place of mourning and grief for the living, and provide a healthy way for the living to deal with death of friends and family. Just the same, these programs serve as tools for the living. Technology affects the character's attempts to deal with death by that the main character uses technology to try to understand death by attempting to model the brain just before death till death via brain scanning devices and hopefully advancing the field scientific community on this topic. At the same time though, technology is holding the main character, Russ, back and causing him to never accept the death of his past lover due to him keeping a personality simulator with her personality on it. We can see how depended Russ becomes on the personality simulator through his actions of never upgrading his simulators and computers due to him not wanting to let go of the last representation he has of his past love. Death affects the technologies the characters build and interact with by that it causes Russ to use computers and scanners to try and record the brain's activities before and up till death and for him to interact with a computer that actually holds a simulator that is his last connection to his love who had died.
Russ Wescott is emotionally scarred by his late wife's death. He continually strives to model the brain before death by experimenting on primates. However, at this point he knows the patterns of death only by looking into the eyes of the subjects and he sees the moment of betrayal that is observed right before death. He believes this moment of betrayal was also observed during his wife's death because of his decision to follow 'economics' rather than her life. He regrets this decision and treasures a simulation of Carol (his deceased wife) to comfort him. This piece of technology however, forms a barrier between his current spouse, Lynne, and himself. He uses the simulation of Carol as an extension of her physical self to cope with her death. His perception of reality and social interaction was confined by the simulation models he surrounded himself with. His language was therefore also confined by the simulations. His speech was notably robotic: always branching off into question after question until Lynne gives in. This is what he referred to as 'winning'. At first, Lynne is concerned with this dependent behavior but eventually leads to Lynne's departure. Her departure was left with a simulation of herself ironically. He goes back and forth with the simulation on his current condition but the limitations of the simulation began to show. She felt this was an appropriate departure due to his dependable nature and introverted behavior. The limitations of the software point to an important aspect of technology as an extension beyond human life. Technology (artificial intelligence) is limited and is not a legitimate form of true social interaction. This is what Russ realizes when the simulation says, "I know how hard this must be for you Russ--". He responds with, "No you don't". In a way, Russ is himself a piece of software, an autopilot, limited by the simulations he is surrounded by.
Technology plays a huge role in effecting how the characters interact with each other. First of all, Wescott does not have to live without his wife because of technology. A computer can simulate her personality and her voice so that he can have a conversation with her ten years after she has died. This computer also allows Lynne to leave Wescott before she has actually confronted him. By simulating herself on the machine, she can leave Wescott while Lynne explains the motives for leaving. After fighting with the virtual image of Lynne, Wescott realizes that he can no longer play this charade. Lynne's departure forces him to realize that he must stop his obsession and accept that his wife is dead. He realizes that if he doesn't stop soon enough, he will be consumed by the guilt.
After depending on Carol and technology to fulfill him emotionally, Russ attempts to date Lynne, yet Russ is unaware that his love life is hopeless since his previous relationship convinced him that affection is a deceiving program installed within everyone. Throughout Russ and Lynne’s relationship, Russ continually compares their interactions with linked computers. In the story, it is very confusing to distinguish between computers software and humans and that is exactly the point that the author wants to make. Is AI really effective? Can we communicate to the dead by using this? For Russ, it is helpful because it keeps the people that he loved and died or left with him. Carol is used in one of his computers in his office. The computer acts and talks like Carol who was really sick and had to be “disconnected” from the world because she was suffering so much. It is easy for one to lose track of her being human or computer at the beginning. Another thing that may throw one off was the fact that even though it is known that Russ was human, he acted like a computer. He had not experienced anger in a long time. Emotions are something that describes human beings, and so if Russ cannot feel anger, then he might as well have been dead. Russ acts like a computer because he is surrounded by them plus he does not really talk to a lot of people because his job consists of “killing” people. Watts almost leads the reader to expect Russ to create another program to represent his cat. At the end of the story, when Lynne leaves Russ, he changes his software to her voice. The computer is apparently explaining to him how this process was. It seemed very simple and it sounded/looked very real to a point that, again, the reader is not sure if it is a computer or a person that Russ is talking to. In general, Russ uses technology to get over the death of people but it really is simply not helping him because he is just trapped in a surreal world of dead people in computers.
The software affects Wescott so much that it makes him believe he can still interact with Carol despite her being already dead. It also interferes with his relationship with Lynne. Technology allows Wescott to trespass death and remain in interaction with Carol although the real Carol is already dead. Language allows the characters to interact, especially with Wescott and his software programs Carol and Mosby. Lynne tests Russ to see if he still has feelings by not making Russ make the decision of whether or not to put down Zombie.. Likewise, Russ constantly tests the programs to see what they are capable of. When Lynne leaves and leaves behind her program, she makes the point that she felt like she was never there with Russ at all because he was so stoic towards her, and that the replacement of herself as a human with her program wouldn't be of much importance to Russ.
Language carries a very important role in the reading. We see characters like Wescott deciding what exactly they think about how the language between themselves and robots differs. Language is more than just simple communication via spoken word. Throughout the reading, we watch Wescott flinch and loath the ways in which the computer programs fail to implement (correctly) tone and subtle interactions that humans make. It should be noted, however, that in the times in which this reading is based, there have been great advancements in the emulation of humans. Maybe it's not even a matter of perfectly emulating a human, but rather the knowledge that it is just not a living human who he is interacting with that pushes Wescott into his loathing nature. Every time one of the simulations seems to make an advancement in acting, it surprising Wescott and he retaliates simply because he knows that machines should not naturally know how to do so. Language is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the world, and having machines emulate it maddens him.
Of course it is hard to lose somebody that is close to you, but Russ had found his own way to deal with the pain of the loss of his wife Carol. Using the AI technology allows him to interact with a simulation of Carol. He doesn't want to suffer and he hates the fact that humans must die, so he is trying to find a way to avoid that. The question then is whether his wife is really gone, or if she is still there, living through the machine. Even though he can interact with Carol, he still notices the flaws the program has. He also notices the differences between the program Carol and the human Carol. This whole thing just drives him nuts and it messes up his new relationship with Lynne.
Language for Wescott serves to distort his perception of exactly what is human. His combined observations of human simulations imitating lingual mannerisms and his work on the primal nervous system all tell him that life is re-creatable with machine. However, when he sees the simulation of Lynne crying, he realizes that no matter how close they get, computers can never completely imitate humans.
I'm not so sure that technology in this story allows a person to exceed the limits of their body exactly. The technology allows for someone to almost capture the personality of a person and store it eternally in a computer software. That being said, it doesn't mean that person is exceeding their bodily limits because, even though it is their personality, it isn't actually them. For example, even though Russ has a simulation of Carol in his computer, it doesn't change the fact that Carol herself is dead so it doesn't effect her limits in anyway and she is still tied down by the bodily limit known as death. The technology more preserves a person's personality even after they are gone rather than exceed the limits of the body.
The technology, however, does allow a personal relationship to exceed bodily limits, although one could argue that since Carol is a mere imitation of the original and possibly unable to adapt and evolve, the situation in the story might not be considered a relationship. This is debatable, though, because it greatly depends on Russ' view of things. To him, it may vary well be an actual relationship. This goes back to the class discussion about what is real and what isn't real and I feel that real is a relative term that changes definition based on the person in question. Either way, the software is obviously a way for Russ to cope with the death of Carol. Although he denies this, the fact that he is throwing away his physical relationship with Lynne for this computer Carol shows that this is true. Because of this, Russ has been drained of emotion as well as the belief in the existence of death. My associating with someone that is presumably dead, Russ feels as if it is possible for ones interactions to continue even after death, thus the actual impact and emotions felt by someone's death are not felt because, to him, they aren't completely gone. Death plays a big role in the way Russ uses technology. He uses all the technology at had to counter death and try to keep Carol alive. Death creates an urgency to build technology that specifically targets a solution to death instead of beneficial technological advancements like flying cars or non-gasoline fuel source. It causes people to forget certain types of technology and focus on death countering related technology.
- Is the human mind merely a machine? Can human intelligence be entirely encapsulated into a biological system?
- Do people have souls?
- What happens when we die?
- Do people in medical comas that would be considered "vegetables" want to die? If so, is this a biological instinct, or is it what we could call an actual "desire?"
- Is there a distinction between the wishes of a human being and the algorithms of a program?
- Can we lose our humanity by probing the science of our brains too deeply?
- Will we ever understand the human mind?
- Do people allow economic issues to bias their decisions about death?