Posts Tagged 'Richard K Morgan'

A friend of the site recently speculated on what visionary science fiction might look like today. Discussion was raised about those creatives who had appeared to be ahead of their time in the past; Alfred Bester, Philip K Dick and Samuel Delaney were all name-checked. This then led to reference of the cabal of writers who were there at the birth of cyberpunk in the early 1980s, and then, unsurprisingly, onto the topic of Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon – adapted as a new Netflix series launching 2nd February 2018 (see above).

First published in 2002 Morgan’s book didn’t arrive with the birth of the internet, nor the novels that riffed off the incredible advances in computer technology which arrived at the end of the 20th Century. It did, however, fall within the Cyberpunk genre while also promoting the notion of consciousness being encoded and transmitted between host bodies. As a visionary piece though, the technology it presents is still very much a problematic and contentious pipe dream – even with Elon Musk’s recent kick start of a human/machine interface.

Robin Andrews over at IFL Science tackles the problem head-on. In his article he describes the complexity and vulnerability of encoding the 86 billion neurons that spark away in an average cranium. Even if you ignore the sheer vastness of data capture required, you then run into the next hurdle of timing. There’s little benefit in encoding the mind when it’s in a downward spiral of dotage. Better to capture yourself at the height of your capabilities while in the prime of your life. But what then? Is the digital construct still you? Do the divergent experiences – you running in biological isolation, while it’s fully connected to the internet – mean you end up with two entities? Perhaps you want to indulge in some well-intentioned editing and get rid of all that disruptive behaviour that’s hampered your corporeal form? If you do, are you then removing self determination from another sentient being?

The other core premise of Altered Carbon is the ability of the protagonists to upload into host bodies. While cloning nudges the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable increasingly towards the realms of science fiction, it still remains an emotive minefield. Just look at the fresh controversy surrounding China’s advances in monkey cloning and it’s obvious that the passage towards digital and biological immortality isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon.

Perhaps then Morgan’s Altered Carbon is indeed visionary, but only in relation to some far-flung time when all these problems have been surmounted – definitely not the near future as posited in both the book and the TV show. Until that distant horizon, when there is no division between the human and machine consciousness, we’ll just have to make the most of our short-lived, limited and yet wonderfully complex brains.

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