“Springer” (short story) by Tow Ubukata
English Publication History: Ghost in the Shell: Five New Short Stories (2017, Vertical)
Original: Japanese (スプリンガー), 2017
Translated by unknown, 2017
Synopsis: Four Olympian bodies destined for Olympian minds have run amok, murdering individuals. These seemingly mindless bodies, with Herculean strength, completely mutilate their victims as if rabid with lustful destruction. As one detective outlines the point of the case in first-person oral perspective, the details of the case become more details: robbery and fraud among other more technologically immoral crimes. As the nitty-gitty pours forth, a tale of high-level evasion and diversion further reveals a case of murder.
Analysis: You really need the context of The Ghost in the Shell to grasp the depth of this story. Naturally, you shouldn’t buy this collection if you’ve never seen the movie as the characters and nuance of the stories would be lost. With that said…
There’s a long series of stepping stones to understand the implications of the story: 1) René Descartes’ idea of the mind-body dualism, 2) Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine (1967), 3) the reality of Masamune Shirow’s The Ghost in the Shell universe, and 4) the implications of “the ghost” and its transference to “the shell”.
Without trying to give too much away: In the original The Ghost in the Shell, the “shells” were comprised of human and robotic bodies; the “ghosts” were just a form a consciousness, be it natural (human) or artificial (AI). “Springer” takes this ghost-shell ethos to a capitalist extreme, a paranoiac extreme, and a cross-species extreme to the point where the characters–everyday people–in the universe must doubt everything they encounter.
For a basis, this has been ripped from Wiki, my own underlines for emphasis only:
The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so the result would not depend on the machine’s ability to render words as speech. If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely answers resemble those a human would give.
Now take the “interviewee” and “interviewer” away from the simple interface of text and a keyboard; let them assume the physical form; now, let the “interviewee” take the form of a non-verbal participant. The “interviewer” would judge intelligence based on reaction alone: hand gestures, shoulder shrugs, eye movements, muscles twitches, etc… that’s assuming the “interviewee” is even human! Let’s take that “shell” and transform it into that of another mammal; thus, the difficulty in the task of identifying consciousness in the “interviewee” is multiplied multi-fold. If we can’t identify the “interviewee” as human, we can’t identify them as conscious.
As a side note, this has resounding measures in terms of aliens (or, even, other forms of ghost-bound “bodies” on this earth): 1) We know consciousness in terms of humans. How would we evaluate alien consciousness? 2) Humans have their limited number of senses and those that we communicate with. How would other “bodies” be able to sense and communicate beyond our human comprehension?
Review: Though this author has no known long-form writing–only manga to attribute to his name–this is one astounding piece of fiction. Not only does the content reach beyond The Ghost in the Shell universe, but it also infringes on our modern-day ideas of consciousness. One of my lingering ideas of consciousness if this: Surely, consciousness isn’t black-or-white among the animal world; for example, dolphins exhibit more than squirrels, primates more than reptiles. If so-called “human” consciousness is base-line, surely there are levels within that level; wheels within wheels. Further, what form would a greater higher consciousness take? It boggles the mind yet is commonplace in the SF realm. As it may turn out, reality may be stranger than fiction.