I'm giving a short presentation tomorrow in my Interpersonal Communications class on Rapture of the Nerds, an sf novel by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross. I'll be using chunks of a reading they did for reference, and to save myself time, here are embeds of the two start-points I need. (The reading is preceded by 15 minutes of discussion on the nature and history of singularity thinking, and I'm skipping about half of Stross's part of the reading.)
There are a few major themes I want to talk about using these sections as examples:
In part 1, Stross's reading, there's an example of an extremely standard kind of conversation -- a discussion between a mother and a daughter -- complicated in just about every possible way. Hugh's mother sets the stage for the conversation in the most distant kind of relationship, a proselytizer talking to an uninterested person on their doorstep, and it only emerges by accident that they actually have a much more intimate dynamic.
They both also reject each other's notions of self in preference for their own perspectives and interpretations. I hope to bring up the problematic nature of treating Hugh as a woman just because he was subjected to an involuntary sex reassignment surgery, and it pairs well with the problematic fact that Hugh rejects the notion that his mother is alive, or has personhood, since she uploaded to the cloud.*
The lack of mutual respect and acknowledgement, as well as the misaligned worldviews, makes it impossible for Hugh and Hugh's mother to communicate their needs to each other. This problem is made worse by the fact that their interests are mutually exclusive. But ultimately the encounter devolves into an exercise of force, in a sort of ultimate paternalistic gesture: the mother/superintelligence kidnaps the child/mere-human, and forcibly uploads him to the cloud against his wishes.
In part 2, I want to talk about the relationships that people have with technology -- the way our encounters with stuff are set up to resemble interactions with other persons. In this case, the whole experience is an extremely well-rendered set of signs and symbols designed to help Hugh relate to his time in the space of the cloud. There's no hotel, no bath, no TV, just simulations, but that familiar language is used to create opportunities for Hugh to interact with the room.
I think there are significant parallels that we could discuss in class between that idea, and the way computers and smartphones are designed with familiar symbol sets.
I have to get ready for work, but I will likely be thinking about this more later, and will report back about how the presentation goes.
*I haven't read Rapture of the Nerds, I just thought this segment would make a good discussion topic, but I get the impression from this section that Hugh would identify as male. If anyone reading this post has read the book, and knows whether I'm misgendering Hugh, please let me know.