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VWN Product Reviews: How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

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Site Shop > How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics




This ten year old book, is a bit behind current advances, but is by no means behind the times. If anything, the changes since 1999, have only emphasised the points made in this volume, not diminished them. In an age of DNA based computing, artificial general intelligence, embodiment, robotics, and ever more complex sensor webs, we find a change in the nature of information itself is occurring. Information is becoming disembodied, even human physical and psychological selves are separating, with individual minds increasingly slipping into virtuality.

This has created a tension even between transhumanists, as some envisage the fast approaching perceived utopia, others scream at the swiftly oncoming perceived dystopia. This book tries to separate hype and anguish from the facts, and tries to investigate the fate of physical embodiment in an information age, divining the trends towards virtualisation, and form becoming distinct from self.

The author relates three interwoven stories: how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualised as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological construction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the liberal humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman."

Ranging widely across the history of technology, cultural studies, and literary criticism, Hayles shows what had to be erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity. Thus she moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel Limbo by cybernetics aficionado Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K. Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems.

Although becoming posthuman can be nightmarish, the author shows how it can also be liberating. From the birth of cybernetics to artificial life, How We Became Posthuman provides an indispensable account of how we arrived in the very beginnings of what will become known as the virtual age, and of where we might go from here.

 

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