The Cyborg includes many aspects relevant to the themes we have been exploring, however one theme in particular struck me on rewatching it this week after a Twitter exchange: how/should we think about agency with regards to technology (for example, around the issues of fear and control, if we should even consider things in this way)?
Great questions! 🤔 Thinking about AI and agency brings to mind this from Hayles (1999: 288): ‘In the posthuman view…conscious agency has never been “in control”…distributed cognition replaces autonomous will…’ #mscedc (1/2)
This short film, A New Hope, comes from Pause Fest 2019. Pause Fest describes itself as ‘an independent, industry-driven movement with a mission to bring diverse intelligence together to fuel the next generation forward’ and invites those from the business, technology and creative worlds.
The film depicts a dystopian view of the future, with an authoritarian ‘cyborg’ and ‘cyborg army’ apparently having taken control of society. Interspersed with the film, the following questions are displayed:
‘At what point do our bodies begin…and end?’
‘How do we define our most intimate borders? Do they end with our skin, with our clothes, with our various extensions of ourselves?’
‘Where is the line between evolution and desecration?’
‘Do these borders keep us apart, or bring us closer together than ever before?’
Additionally, the notes for the film warn of ‘popularity mixed with power’ creating an ‘unpleasant and dangerous’ society – as depicted in the film – while emphasising that ‘we have a high hope that our collective consciousness will drive us to a much brighter, safer, happier, inclusive and prosperous place’.
While these questions may provoke interesting discussions, they arguably reinforce the binary oppositions depicted elsewhere in science fiction. For example, a dystopian scene is juxtaposed with a utopian message of hope in the accompanying notes. The discussion of boundaries and borders hints that a more complex way of thinking is possible, yet the ‘extensions’ or body ‘enhancements’ depicted tend to emphasise an extropian approach, where the ‘fragile human body’ is replaced by ‘more durable forms’ (Miller 2011: 215).
In its dystopian narrative, the film also depicts what appears to be ‘female’ cyborgs in powerless positions, such as a production line. This is in contrast to the ‘male’ cyborgs depicted in positions of power and carrying weapons. While this may be a commentary on existing inequalities being reproduced in future, it is at odds with the liberated figure of the cyborg – ‘a creature in a post-gender world’ – depicted by Donna Haraway (2007: 35).
In short, while interesting questions are provoked, the film appears to reinforce familiar utopian/dystopian oppositions, while not addressing the nuanced complexities that a posthuman view might. As N. Katherine Hayles (1999: 288) writes:
‘Just as the posthuman need not be antihuman, so it also need not be apocalyptic.’