Short Synthesis #5: Randomness and Manipulation
to define information as a probability function[…]implies that randomness always already interpenetrates pattern, for probability as a concept posits a situation in which there is no a priori way to distinguish between effects extrapolated from known causes and those generated by chance conjunctions. Like information and noise, pattern and randomness are not opposites bifurcated into a dichotomy but interpenetrating terms joined in a dialectic[…]the concept of information is generated from the interplay between pattern and randomness. (Hayles 190-191)
This quote by Hayles reminds me of how the artificial intelligences in William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer, were unable sometimes to persuade or manipulate certain people due the random acts and out of character emotional decisions humans can make. If information is just pattern that has no meaning and only a probability function according to Hayles, then Wintermute is a decoder of those patterns. However the power of Wintermute has limitations since he does not see the randomness “interpenetrated” with information. As Riviera from the novel states “[Wintermute] can’t really understand us, you know. He has his profiles but those are only statistics. You may be a statistical animal, darling, and Case is nothing but, but I possess a quality unquantifiable by its very nature”(Gibson 219). This scene supports Hayles belief that information can never be separate from the medium or body that imagines it in the first place. True power and information manipulation over people requires not just their profiles, mathematical statistical predictions of how they will act, but the knowledge of the “randomness”, the emotional and imaginative nature of human beings.
Wintermute fails several times to accurately predict human patterns consequently almost ruining his plans and makes one realize the limits of his power. For example when Molly disregards Wintermute’s instructions to go in a specific direction and almost gets killed by Ashpool, Wintermute in the form of the Finn, says “You guys,[…]you’re a pain. The Flatline here, if you were all like him, it would be real simple. He’s a construct, just a buncha ROM, so he always does what I expect him to. My projections said there wasn’t much chance of Molly wandering on Ashpool’s big exit”(Gibson 205). Here Wintermute seems to admit his limitations at reading people, and disdain that people are not just information as patterns. Wintermute has no sure way of predicting the future from patterns of information because he lacks the emotional, irrational, and spontaneous feature of humans. Wintermute is pure logic and math but has no creativity and that lack of that half of humanity, results in loss of power and control over what happens. In comparison, the opposite of Wintermute, is the other artificial intelligence Neuromancer, who attempts to manipulate reality in more subtle ways, appealing to human emotions such as love and hate. The patterns of information he sees inhibit the more human emotional side. When Case asks Neuromancer if he killed Linda his girlfriend, he responds “No. I saw her death coming. In patterns you sometimes imagined you could detect in the dance of the street. Those patterns are real. I am complex enough, in my narrow ways to read those dances. Far better than Wintermute can”(259). Here Case realizes it was Neuromancer who has been sending him images and subtle messages that made him emotional and think certain things. However no matter how good Neuromancer reads human personalities, craziness, feelings, etc., he does not have the mathematical function or control over most of the computer technology like Wintermute, who can control robots and make himself appear in almost any form of communication technology. Neuromancer’s ability by itself has its limits since he can not do things such as blackmail people. This means that as long as emotional patterns and pure probability patterns remain separate, total control and influence over humanity remains impossible.
Case is a good example of the power of human emotion in combination with technology. At the end of the novel, he plunges deep in order to get through the information security systems. His technological and logical skills alone do not drive him to his full potential but rather his hate. Case feels the “his hate flowed into his hands. In the instant before he drove Kuang’s sting through the base of the first tower, he attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything he’s known or imagined. Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, he moved[…]grace of the mind-body interface granted him[…]by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die”(Gibson 262). Here Case realizes a greater potential in his abilities as a hacker. And that potential does not come from logic along, but from his emotions, his hatefulness, and his acceptance of death. This seems to support the idea that information, information about humanity, relies more than just mathematical probabilities because there appears to be something in the human mind that allows us to change, shift, and evolve out of their conventional character profile.
Human beings do crazy things in Gibson’s Neuromancer such as drugs, sex, and murders, but that craziness allows them resist be categorized, predictable, uncontrollable by minds like Wintermute who only look at the logical statistical data of how certain human will act. According to Hayles the essence of information consists of the randomness that interconnects with patterns. Those who recognize that and don’t try to separate them, will achieve greater understanding and power. Eventually Wintermute and Neuromancer who each represent mathematical probability and fluctuating human emotions, combine and become a being that seems like a god.