You can philosophize a lot about Cyberpunk 2077 and while playing a few questions crossed my mind: How can you save an entire personality on a chip? Will only large corporations really rule the world in 50 years? What does technology do to us? How many pages of EULA do I need to read before installing missiles in my calves? How far is it really still from the DualSense controller to braindance? And above all: Will a Johnny Silverhand end in my head at some point?
Maybe you had completely different questions on your mind, but I thought, honestly, why don’t we get someone who knows about artificial intelligence in video games. Someone who can really tell us about the content and plausibility of this cyberpunk game.
Prof. Dr. Stephan Schwingeler is an art historian and media scientist and has been dealing with computer games in media and art for more than a decade. In 2008 he wrote “The Space Machine – Space and Perspective in Computer Games”. A book that deals with spatiality in games. In 2014, “Computer Game Artwork – Digital Games as Artistic Material” was published, which enlightened a debate that has been engaging players and observers of this medium not just since yesterday. In the course of this, Prof. Dr. Schwingeler gained a lot of insights into science fiction and artificial intelligence in game studies, which is why he was the perfect conversation partner for my many philosophical and theoretical questions.
If you watch the video now, then feel free to philosophize and share your perspectives and thoughts on these very broad subject areas with us. Here is just a small excerpt with the most important topics in the interview:
Take a look at the full video, below you will find a few highlights to read, the time information from where these passages come from can also be found there.
It always starts with Space Invaders.
SamaGame.de (4:25): How likely is it that such a large amount of information will end up on such a silicon splinter at some point? Are there already examples of hardware that can play large loads of information in the human brain?
Schwingeler: Yes, there is actually something similar. Work is already in progress on so-called BCIs: Brain Computer Interfaces. The question here is about the interface. How does information get into something? What are the points of contact between the brain and any information that is stored? And in reality – in current research – it is the case that this does not work via SD cards or something, but via EEGs – i.e. via interfaces. They are put on their heads and they measure the electrical activity of the brain waves: electroencephalography. And you can actually do something with that!
You can use it to control prostheses, for example. In prosthetics, this is done by creating interfaces between the brain and a “thing”, a piece of hardware. And that works really well. You can even play simple computer games with it. I myself played Space Invaders with my brainwaves at a Gamescom (I think). And then you think of “left” and the cannon goes to the left – or you think of “right” and the cannon goes to the right.
You can actually do that with a BCI. That information is fed directly into the brain like with Matrix or something like that and one says “I can do Kung-Fu!”, That is of course science fiction! But the point is that, of course, science fiction also demonstrates things that, to a certain extent, come into the world as a result – that is, an idea arises – and that in turn also influences scientists. And so one can say that it cannot be ruled out that at least one is working on it or thinking in the direction of doing something like this.
These BCIs are already in the toy industry, for example: I put an EEG on my head and can then play a “Star Wars” toy, for example, in such a way that when I concentrate, I let a ball float up in a tube can. In a sense, I can exercise the “force” – the “power” from the film. It already exists, also in the toy industry.
How much ‘future’ is there already today?
Creator versus creation or just a cyber psychosis?
SamaGame.de (19:10): There’s also the Turing test, which determines whether an AI can start to think for itself. When is the point at which AI is no longer artificial intelligence, but can think for itself? Would you say Johnny Silverhand is a person because he has a kind of completely independent thinking?
Schwingeler: That brings us to the question of what makes a person. Is a person just the spirit that is in his physical shell and is this physical shell, like the hardware, interchangeable, so to speak? Or does it matter more to people? Isn’t it perhaps also his physicality that defines him and perhaps the combination of both? I can’t necessarily answer that question.
SamaGame.de: We’ll have to decide that for ourselves. So that’s the answer.
Rocker: Yes, or maybe it just has to show the future. For example, I would say that people are also influenced by their physicality. He cannot be separated from his body without further ado. He is not only a spiritual being, but also a physical being, which helps determine people. The peculiarities of appearance, movement, etc. That is all part of being human. And what if I now transfer my mind – my “software” – into a new type of “hardware”? Wouldn’t it be possible that then I would go crazy because my body would suddenly no longer match my mind? So that sounds to me like the blueprint for a personality disorder that can develop there. But I’m not a doctor, so I can’t really say exactly (laughs).
Future Technologies: Curse or Blessing?
SamaGame.de (10:15 p.m.): In Cyberpunk 2077 there is also the disease “Cyberpsychosis”. Cyber psychosis occurs in the game world when a character inserts too many implants and modifies the body too much so that their mind cannot cope with exactly what has just been described. The mind no longer feels comfortable in the modified body. He no longer feels human and that leads to the loss of human needs such as eating and sleeping. Cyber psychosis leads in the last stage to suicide or murder because cyber psychos can no longer stand the “normal humanity” in their environment.
There is a bunch of shards in the game that you can collect and read. Below that is a section called “Technologies” and there is something interesting about Relic 2.0. This uses the body as a host to enable the processes of the AI in it.
People as batteries often appear in other media of the genre: Matrix as the best-known example, eXistenZ, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Quake 4 or Soylent Green. Where does this idea come from? is it a fear to have if the earth’s energy resources run out?
Schwingeler: Yes, where does this idea come from – what kind of idea is it actually? That is the idea that something is turning against us – that we are no longer masters of what we have invented. Suddenly we no longer put the batteries into the technical thing that we use as a tool or something, but we ourselves are converted into batteries.
And again we have the idea or the notion that here creation turns against the Creator. In the Matrix case this can be seen once again quite nicely: the machines enslave the people, turn the tool idea and the game of “who is actually whose master?” around. People are being tapped into energy sources and batteries.
And there we have exactly the same topic again: People are losing control over what they have invented or created. Creation turns against the Creator. It is a story of loss of control that comes with creation taking over and then ultimately subjugating the Creator. And these are good stories to illustrate conflict. I can create a wonderful image of the enemy, I can say: these are the bad machines, the bad programs or the bad algorithms or the bad splinters.
These are of course all good stories to build up conflicts and that’s why you see them relatively often in certain narratives. These are stories of dystopia – of a bleak future. It has to do with a horror or horror factor. For example, you have now mentioned eXistenZ from Cronenberg. This is a film that also works wonderfully with the body horror. The controllers in the film, which incidentally is also a great film about computer games, are made of meat. And of course that is there to get the audience really close.
Bottom line: it’s about hubris. It’s about human megalomania. The point is that the issue here is to raise oneself as a creator. About: “Watch out! You shouldn’t do that as a human!” Because in the end only God can do that. Accordingly, we have a lot of stories through human history – not only in science fiction or in computer games – where human hubris ultimately becomes doomed and creation turns against the creator. At the core of the story there is often a moral ending, where we then see that humans should please remain human and creation is reserved for other higher powers. Often there are also religious stories that are told there.
Neuro-Cinema will be the new Netflix
SamaGame.de (36:35): We turn to the irreligious topic of braindances. They were invented in Cyberpunk 2077 to record your own memories or emotions or to call up those of other people and experience them yourself. Virtually VR glasses that are directly connected to the brain and can therefore use all of the senses. If we have a new generation of consoles every four years, how realistic will such hardware be in 50 years that will expand to all of the senses? Are there already examples that go in this direction?
Schwingeler: Yes. Clear! These are notions that are definitely older than Cyberpunk 2077. The notion of experiencing something – in the media with all your senses – are stories that have been told in films in the recent past, such as Strange Days or another film with Keanu Reeves, Johnny Mnemonic. He also sticks something in his head and can then empathize with other personalities. (Ana: I think it was a disk.) It used to be a disk, today it’s a longer SD card. So we are clearly dealing with media history here.
In any case, there are of course such ideas in media theory. There is, for example, a media theorist, Peter Weibel, who wrote the text “Neuro-Cinema” as early as 1996 on the first wave of virtual reality that began to slosh into the consumer sector. There he sketches the history or development of the technical image – from photography to film and computer animation to interactive simulation images as we know them today from computer games. He comes to the conclusion that the next stage – in 1996 (!) – should be the so-called “Neuro-Cinema”.
The idea of experiencing a film with all your senses already existed in 1996.
So actually exactly the idea we are dealing with here. At Strange Days. At Johnny Mnemonic. Cyberpunk 2077. That we have an interface that washes media content directly into our brains, so to speak, and that we can perceive this content not only through eyes and ears, but through the whole body – that is, smell, taste and feel. […] Incidentally, the vibration in the controller is already a small preliminary stage or idea of what could possibly come true through these interfaces.
The moment such stories come from the media that I can experience certain things , it becomes a meta-narrative about computer games themselves. The game thematizes a future of its own medium by showing how games do actually 2077 could possibly look like. These are always very exciting moments in which games tell about themselves.
Data protection is neglected in dystopias like Cyberpunk 2077.
SamaGame.de (44:10): A very pragmatic question. In the missions, V receives complete profiles of the target persons like in a police file. And there is, I believe, a great fear that will surely be with us as early as 2021: What about data protection? Is it an issue if everyone can track how many missiles I am putting in my arms and who have them modified and how?
Schwingeler: That is of course a horror. So there is no more data protection. It’s clear. In the dystopias that we are talking about here, I would like to see an NPC who is a really nice, pudgy, stuffy data protection officer. It would actually be really cool to include someone in the stories who interrupts the characters who are currently building Mantis Blades and says: “But have you read the End-User License Agreement?” Of course, that doesn’t fit into the narrative, because it would slow it down completely. Such a story would not get off to a good start if you had to read 20 pages of EULAs and accordingly there is no place for that.
In the real world, of course, how to deal with data protection is an issue. We are all afraid of becoming glassy and transparent. But it is also always important not to forget that many end users give up their data quite voluntarily and actually think it’s great. And in my opinion you need competence in dealing with your own data.
SamaGame.de (55:44): How important is one’s own identity for a person?
Schwingeler: Probably very important. If I were a psychiatrist or a psychologist, I could probably answer that better (laughs).
But the fact is that identity means that consciousness is in harmony. The opposite of identical is “different” and if discrepancies develop there, then I guess it’s not so healthy. And that can lead to problematic things. I’m not the expert on that, but I can say that identity is very important for a person.
SamaGame.de: Is identity something that ultimately distinguishes humanity from AI? Can an AI develop its own identity?
Schwingeler: In theory. If that’s programmed. When the AI is told to develop an identity. We talk all the time about computer programs that pretend to be intelligent. So actually imitated intelligence. What we as humans consider intelligent. And this is somehow imitated by computer programs in order to convince people – keyword: Turing test – that what we are dealing with is not a computer (program), but a person. So all the time it’s actually about an illusion technique, if you will.
The leap that is made in science fiction or in Pinocchio is that this imitation disappears and the AI, the artificial being, no longer imitates at some point, but develops its own genuine consciousness – an identity, if you will . This means that in the narratives that we know about these artificial beings of all kinds, the identity is presented again and again as the last spark that is necessary to distinguish an imitated intelligence from a real artificial intelligence. From a story analysis perspective, I would say that identity is the last “spark” it takes to turn a wooden puppet into a real boy.
SamaGame.de: I’m satisfied with that! Many Thanks! Today we clarified a lot of very interesting questions – We thank Prof. Dr. Stephan Schwingeler for the willingness and the insights into the media world of computer games, in this case above all of course on the topics in Cyberpunk 2077.
If you have any special questions, comments or just thoughts: Let’s go down, because we are of course also interested in how you deal with the topics in Cyberpunk 2077!
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