September 17, 2009

A brain in a jar, yesterdayElsewhere on the web a somatically-male, self-styled artist and gender activist who identifies as a non-passing, non-transitioning, no-electrolysis transwoman makes a series of deliberately provocative statements; not the least of which is the eyebrow-raising assertion that SRS and HRT for transsexual women are merely forms of body modification of no greater significance than tattoos and piercings.

Leaving aside this embarrassing display of a combination of ignorance and insensitivity, for some reason the phrase “body modification” reminded me of an idea developed by William Gibson in his science fiction short story Johnny Mnemonic. The story contained a description of what would surely be a more extreme form of body modification than anything the self-identified authentic woman could imagine in her wildest flights of fancy – more extreme than major abdominal surgery; more extreme, even, than getting your ears pierced.

The concept involved the progenitor – a data trafficker – undergoing surgery to have a data storage system implanted in his head. A variation on the theme appeared in other works of fiction written by Mr Gibson, in which people have data ports implanted in the sides of their necks, wet-wired to their brains. The idea being that you would be able to plug in various hardware chips, each with a dedicated function – perhaps as a way of transferring large amounts of data, or maybe augmenting certain aspects of your knowledge for use in specific, short-term circumstances. So, for example, you would be able to plug in a chess grand master’s chip and you would know all the rules and moves of the game. Or a language chip to enable you to speak fluent Spanish, or French, or English. When you’re done, you take out the chip and the knowledge just fades away.

I always imagined the data port implant would look something like a USB port on a computer. And in the same way I can now plug in my USB memory stick and access my blog backup, or the latest post I’m working on, or my resumé, the wetware chip would plug into the port in the side of my neck, and (presumably) it would contain some sort of executable file. (I assume it would be a read-only (ROM) chip too, to avoid computer virus infections).

Of course there are scary real world implications for this so-called cybernetic surgery – in addition to a covert means of unauthorised data exchange (as in Johnny Mnemonic), the potential for mind control really is disturbing (who would write the content of the ROM chips? How would you know a chip was what it claimed to be?) – But hey, this is cyberpunk science fiction, right?

Hmm, maybe so. Or maybe a shiny new future of truly mind-blowing body modifications is nearer then even the most progressive gender activist in the whole of California could imagine:

(Curtsey to Josie for tweeting the YT link)


One Response to “Gibsonesque”

  1. belledame222 Says:

    huh. also “ExistenZ,” I guess.

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