Friday, January 11, 2013

Your Flesh is Irrelevant, Because it's the Data that Counts

In the book How We Became Posthuman, author Katherine Hayles devotes some of chapter two to analyzing William Gibson's Neuromancer, particularly where protagonist Case claims busy Ninsei Street  resembles "a field of data... the dance of biz, information interacting, data made flesh in the mazes of the black market." From this paragraph, Hayles draws several conclusions about Neuromancer and cyborg literature in general:

"Pattern tends to overwhelm presence, leading to a construction of immateriality that depends not on spirituality or even consciousness but only on information... Information is the putative origin, physicality the derivative manifestation... If flesh is data incarnate, why not go back to the source and leave the perils of physicality behind?" (Pgs 35, 37).

PSYCHO-PASS© Production I.G.

The world of PSYCHO-PASS has taken these conclusions and made them concrete rules that society must abide by. The software program known as the Sybil System governs almost all of one's activities, relying on calculated assessments and aptitude tests to maintain order, dictating matters ranging from what career one would be suited to, to determining if a latent criminal should be paralyzed and apprehended or blown to pieces. In the case of PSYCHO-PASS, the "pattern that overwhelms presence" is found within the Psycho-Pass chip inside one's body, which relays stress levels and other biological readings via cymatic scan to Sybil.

Based on the data it receives, the Psycho-Pass chip is able to form a Crime Coefficient, a determination of one's mental stability and latent criminality. The problem the anime presents us with is that a high Crime Coefficient is an indicator that one might commit a crime in the near future, not that they will commit a crime. Actions have lost their significance to information and readings people aren't even aware they are giving off. Punishment, therefore, is extended to both active criminals and those who may simply be under temporary duress. Referring back to Hayles' statements, if physicality is indeed the derivative manifestation of information, then it makes sense that Sybil would depend on a coefficient that predicts future behavior.

Sybil's software is also connected to special police weapons called Dominators. Pointing a Dominator at someone will instantly relay their Crime Coefficient to the officer wielding it. If the coefficient is too low, the trigger will lock. If it is too high, the gun will allow for the suspect to either be stunned, or completely terminated with an explosive shot. Most instances of Dominator use in the show have resulted in criminals being terminated, usually after committing unspeakably gory crimes. This suggests  maybe our heroes mostly deal with extreme criminals, or that Sybil hasn't made society less violent so much as increased the severity of those crimes that are committed, and has created an atmosphere where fear of Sybil forces stress to build up and mutate into something dark and ugly.  

Are the violent killing of criminals, and even the macabre nature of crimes committed, precipitated by Sybil's disregard for conscious human action and agency? Is trying to read the body for information an accurate method of understand what's going on in the mind? Is the subconscious, the memories you have, the thoughts you carry greater than the value of your flesh? If I had to make my own argument, I'd refer back to the blog post I wrote on the Animatrix short film, "World Record," where accepting virtuality and the interplay of both the tangible world and informational coding was the most beneficial outcome for man and creates the most opportunities for self-improvement.

Relying entirely on cold data while ignoring real-world events creates a sense of helplessness, where men are unable to see past their statistical trappings. Humans sometimes have to make tough calls when the the numbers tell them one thing and their intuition tells them another. In PSYCHO-PASS, a Crime Coefficent only yields high numbers when the suspect's body reveals involuntary distress signals that can be picked up by cymatic scan. In the case where a body is perfectly at ease even when committing an obvious crime, Sybil isn't able to detect a coefficient. Are the police supposed to stand around while the crime is being committed?

Learning to think and act for oneself, as PSYCHO-PASS' villain is attempting to prove, cannot be substituted for all the data in the world. After all, we're not robots, are we?

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