Autonomous, Annalee Newwitz, 2017
Author of the activity: Jimena Escudero
Read the following excerpt carefully:
Where are you from, Paladin?” (…)
Paladin paused in his squirming, his head nearly touching Eliasz’ leg where it rested in red sand. He wasn’t sure what the appropriate answer to that question would be, since he hadn’t really been alive long enough to be from anywhere in particular.
“I suppose I am from the Kagu Robotics Foundry in Cape Town,” he vocalized.
“No, no, no,” Eliasz shook his head violently, then rapped his knuckles on Paladin’s lower back. “I mean, where are you from originally? Where is your brain from?”
Under its layers of abdominal shielding, Paladin’s biobrain floated in a thick mixture of shock gel and cerebrospinal fluid. There was a fat interface wire between it and the physical substrate of his mind. The brain took care of his facial recognition functions, assigning each person he met a unique identifier based on the edges and shadows of their expressions, but its file system was largely incompatible with his own. He used it mostly like a graphics processor. He certainly had no idea where it was from, beyond the fact that a dead human working for the Federation military had donated it.
Eliasz spoke again. “Isn’t it important to you to know who you really are? Why you feel what you do?”
None of Paladin’s emotions or ethics were processed in his human brain. But then Eliasz looked right into the sensor array mounted on Paladin’s face, his eyes dark and attentive. Suddenly Paladin didn’t want to explain his file system architecture anymore.
“I don’t know where my brain is from,” he replied simply. “I can’t access its memories.”
Write down a paragraph describing Paladin. Give as much info as you can, by using the text provided.
From the excerpt, we can infer he isn’t (fully) human. He is a sort of robot (he says he comes from Kagu Robotics). He has a biobrain from a deceased person and he doesn’t know where he is from. He has some relation to the Federation military.
What do you think the literary genre of the novel is? Why?
Science fiction. Brain transplants aren’t possible now. Because we are given a “scientific” explanation to contextualise the fiction and make the fictional coherent within the narrative, we can categorise the text as science fiction.
Look for the following in the text:
– Anatomical nouns
– Anatomical adjectives
– Nouns of organs
– Anatomical nouns: leg, head, knuckles, lower back; eyes
– Anatomical adjectives: abdominal, facial
– Nouns of organs: biobrain, brain
What is special about Paladin’s brain? Where did it come from? What does he use it for mostly? Where is it placed in his body and how?
It’s a donated brain from a deceased human working for the Federation military. He uses it mostly for facial recognition and like a graphics processor. It floats in a thick mixture of shock gel and cerebrospinal fluid and is connected to the physical substrate of his mind through a fat interface wire.
In your opinion, why is Eliasz so interested in Paladin’s brain?
Because Eliasz is probably a human and as such, he considers the brain the recipient of identity, individuality, personality, etc.
Can you identify a semantic field about cognition?
Head; to be sure; suppose; brain; recognition; identifier; idea; feel; emotions; ethics; processed; sensor; attentive; explain; memories
Which noun is related to “brain” (organ) but has more complex connotations? Discuss some of these connotations (“capacities”, “system”, “identity” etc.)
Can you think of any terms/expressions in which this noun is used?
Newitz, co-founder of io9, delivers seriously plausible—if chilling—future medicine in her debut, imagining a world where pharma pirates reverse-engineer drugs in order to distribute their own versions the way people jailbreak software today. Judith “Jack” Chen hacks a drug called Zacuity, which supposedly makes people feel good about working long hours for their jobs—but when people start dying, Jack discovers the truth: Zacuity makes people addicted to working, to the point of insanity and even death. A thrilling pursuit and race against time ensues as Jack flees agents while trying to get the truth out. In this terrifyingly plausible post-climate change future, pharma hackers—both blackhat and white—are a vital part of the healthcare system in which “better living through chemistry” is taken to terrifying extremes.
Can you think of other examples of stories that you have read, that deal with healthcare in the future?
Which medical advances that we enjoy today do you think were predicted by fiction before becoming reality? https://www.usfhealthonline.com/resources/healthcare/5-real-life-medical-devices-inspired-by-science-fiction/
Which do you think are awaiting us now, and you have seen in fiction?