Monday, February 01, 2010

Caprica: Okay, I'll bite...

It's been a long time since I've watched any sort of television at all... as you can see from my archives, most of my consumption time is divided between movies, books, and occasionally graphic novels and blogs. However, I've seen some ads for Caprica around the subways, and the stark stylization and theo-philosophical innuendo of the posters hooked me. I'm a sucker for that "apple of knowledge" theme. So I'll try to follow it.

I just got through the pilot. Now, mind you, except for the pilot, I never saw Battlestar Galactica. I know, generally, that it's about the death of an interplanetary civilization and the final refugees escaping through deep space to find a mythical "seed planet." Also, I know that the Cylons are scary-ass antagonists because of their merciless hatred for humans, and because they manage such a perfect replication of the human body and mind. These are all things that intrigue me... but it was never enough for me to dive into the series, especially as late in the game as I was when I was informed of all this stuff. With Caprica, on the other hand... with this, I can start from the beginning.

For the moment, I'm going to look at a couple of the key "speculative fiction" concepts that make Caprica so interesting. Maybe I'll find other ways to tackle later episodes of the series... I don't know. I'm just trying to talk about what catches in my mental filter.

1 - How about the idea that you can fully reconstruct a personality, including memories, habits, opinions, and identity, by harvesting traces that person has left in the global information network?

At first, it seems massively far-fetched. But then, when you think of how much you might be able to learn about somebody from the various protected records of them, it becomes intriguing. For instance, your doctors, employers, and even the government might have files on you. The more visible you’ve been throughout your life, the more complete a picture they might be able to build. See, for instance, Douglas Hofstadter’s book I am a Strange Loop, in which he speculates that by getting to know someone intimately, you create a low-resolution imprint of them in your own brain. Zoe’s program... which resurrects a person from their distributed imprint in the infosphere... isn’t too far off conceptually.

But then you may think: when is it that people have taken records of you? If you were sick at a certain time in your life, there are probably an excess of medical records from that time. If you were ever accused of a serious crime, there would be a bunch more records from that period. And if you were ever considered for a very important job, you might have been highly scrutinized and recorded at that time, too. If someone tried to reconstruct you from your records, how would this "reconstructed personality" be tinted by exceptional cases? Would your avatar seem like a highly-qualified, medically-challenged savant with terroristic tendencies?

2 - How about the idea that when your personality is recreated digitally, you’ll have a terrifying anxiety about not having a body? This is a fear that Pauley, the Dixie Flatline, wrestled with back in 1985, when Gibson published the infamous Neuromancer.

I have to admit, the “reunion” scene with Tamara Adama and her father was the most compelling moment in the pilot episode(s) for me. If you’ve ever been in an altered state of mind without fully understanding it, you may have been able to identify with Tamara’s confused panic in the claustrophobic little virtual room. Some people (Zoe?) seem completely comfortable with not having a body and living solely as a mind, but I speculate that I would feel like Tamara feels… like I’m missing something essential to my existence.

So assuming that Zoe is a special type of person, able to exist solely as a cerebral construct, at ease without a physical body weighing her down, what type of person might this be? Is she transcendent? Or is she inhuman?

Other thoughts on the pilot:

Does Eric Stoltz remind anyone else of Craig Kilborn?

My inner espionage nerd would love to see how the meta-cognitive processor got stolen from Vergis, and how Sam got into the Defense Minister's bedroom so easily, when Caprican security is obviously pretty advanced.

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