Thursday, September 9, 2010

A "satisfycing" look at artificial intelligence (and Kirby)

For some reason, while Machine Man grew up in the pages of 2001: a Space Odyssey, he’s generally considered as unrelated to the actual Kubrick film as anything else he included in the eclectic run of the comic it inspired. However, when one finds the genesis of H.A.L. in Al Simon’s 1965 prediction that “in twenty years, we should have machines that can outperform men at any task.” (see the article above for quote).

This point proves part of Kirby’s thesis for his new character as well, as portrayed first in his text pages in each of the first three issues. Kirby’s given his creation an emotional tie to the human race, as well as an emulation of the conscience, if it is not, in fact, truly Machine Man’s own conscience. If so, this is part of his make-up as an individual. Can you imagine paranoia that some vital few molecules of storage space could be bonded to a destructible piece of matter carried in your person? Yet, in as far as mentality resides at an interface with our own grey matter, our individuality is similarly fragile.

Machine Man also represents a fantasy in the world of strong artificial intelligence, far ahead of its time. The character can access computations and work out extra-ordinary principles of logic. Yet this tendency towards thinking that does not serve an objective task---this wool-gathering, this hypothesis he has that he is one of us, so based in a type of faith that is, perhaps, the Occam’s Razor solution---the satisfycing---represents emotional qualities that seem in part based on our interweaving with physical, biologically-based being. So for some reason, negative and positive emotions alike are taken aboard, to play with the decision making process, forever altered by his new ability to take things personally.

How can a human being without an ethnic background or family shape an identity? His mechanical being, in this case, is a hideous disability that assures him never more than a fringe position relative to human society. Yet his body also makes him the strange new protector of a race he always struggles to understand, which somehow has originated him and molded him with elements that dominate his tabla rasa, his blank slate life. What makes him perform with altruism, gratitude, kindness, and courage, for the sake of relating him to us by way of values, if not biology, would be just as difficult to trace in the world of neurons as in his hypothetically bolted bod. A much different objective, say, than beating Bobby Fisher at chess!

Perhaps Machine Man less reflects why being like US is a logical thing for an inorganic being to do, so much as he allows us to take our own feelings and reflections and sense of imagination into another new super-human form, providing another strange refraction in which to see the enigma of person hood.

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