Original Text Description – Old Sociocultural Horizon


Rather than opt for the course of picking a single science fiction text, I want to pick a theme that pervades many science fiction texts.  I am interested in examining  the agency-safety, humanity-embodiment relationship. A number of characters in science fiction text that we’ve engaged with in this course come to mind. I want to focus on three agency spectra. First, is the Jarvis-Ultron-Vision spectrum from Age of Ultron. Second is the Robbie-Speedy-Cutie. Finally is the Hnau-Hross/Sorn/Pfiftrigg/Human-Eldil-Oyarsa spectrum from C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet.


Spectrum is a weak word as it assumes linearity. Part of my aim in this project is a deconstruction of the linear nature of agency and consciousness. The old sociocultural horizon sees consciousness as linear and hierarchical. This is present in all three spectra. Jarvis for example has a utilitarian consciousness. It is unclear to the reader whether or not Jarvis has sensational experience and free will. He appears to be a complete and total servant of Tony Stark. Ultron however seems to have a will of his own. Jarvis appears to have even more of a will. He is presented as enlightened figure with seemingly more value than Ultron and Jarvis – Jarvis is pet-like by comparison. Ultron to Jarvis is like a petulant child. In terms of the agency-saftey relationship, Ultron wants to restrict all freedom. Vision seems more willing to allow freedom for the sake of sentience (as evidenced by his desire to keep Ultron alive.)


This hierarchy is echoed in I, Robot. Robbie is pet-like, Speedy is seemingly more conscious and agentive, and Cutie is human-like in “his” reflections. Yet even Cutie seems “naive” in comparison to the humans. Cutie has overridden the human operators’ wills, but has done so out of a convoluted belief system that may trace its origins to our human intention in the end. So he may be agentive in his breaking of the laws, but, it could be argued, he does not have free will. Even though he overrides our own will he does it because, implicit in our code, we asked him to.  


I include Lewis’s spectrum because it most explicitly addresses a hitherto unmentioned bias of the old horizon. The Martian in Lewis creatures reflect the spectrum, but because of his theological background the spectrum ends in the beings of pure spirit the Eldil. He creates a heirachy of being, but he does so in a Vision-like rather than Ultron-like way. Lewis’s “highest” beings still seem to value the “lowest” beings despite their “low” position on the spectrum of embodiment/agency. 


The aim of the project is to examine this implicitly hierarchical spectrum in the old horizon, deconstruct it, examine it from a non-linear narrative spectrum in order to create an intuitive/emotional experience of this spectrum and give the reader the option to interpret this deconstructred spectrum. As will be described below in designing the project I want to ask the question of the hierarchy and encode the confusion into the feedback mechanisms/story.


Justification for the Alternative Version: New Sociocultural Horizon

While the old horizon might be summarized as following a linear path from matter to animals to humans, the new horizon is more concerned with the question of the next step into A.I. and the postmodern question of whether this is hierarchical at all in the first place.


I am to analyze this transition and question from the perspective of agency. I want to use non-linear narrative to ask the question: what is the level of agency of all possible positions on this spectrum? If we can imaginatively experience being on different places on the spectrum can it inform a fusion of the old and new horizon. (Fusion of Horizons language is from Gadamer)


My vision is a video game whose story echoes the central questions, with multiple playable characters, conscious and unconscious inputs to the game through biofeedback, and at least three possible endings to the game depending on the choices made by the reader. Two endings will represent the new and old horizons. The third ending will somehow represent the fusion of them.




Story: The story starts with a conflict of some kind that forces the central characters to flee. The band of central characters flees the conflict using a teleportation machine, but the conflict causes the machine to be destroyed or powered down and the teleportation to be interrupted. The central characters all wake up as incompletely teleported beings. They have their full bodies, but they all have incomplete minds. Part of their minds are left in the transmission process. By design, it is left unclear as to whether their minds are still on the way, or partially destroyed.


The quest is to save their own minds. To achieve this they must physically return to the teleporter to repair it in hopes of completing the transmission of their minds. However when they arrive there they find the teleporter destroyed. This is where the story can fragment once. The reader can now choose to continue living with their fragmented minds or to attempt time travel into their own timelines to save their own minds.


A note: as the story progresses their new minds do continue to develop. The longer the story progresses the more of a new mind the characters have the less and less worth it it seems to go find their “old selves.” What after all are they searching for is they seem to be developing new selves? They are finding a consciousness of a different kind.


Multiple Playable Characters:


Each character will represent a different level of agency, emotional experience, knowledge, and computational power. Details forthcoming in later drafts. There are Jarvis/Robbie pet-like characters (and human characters who lost enough of their consciousnesses to resemble them). There are Ultron/Cutie like characters and humans whose minds are fragmented to resemble them. Though they may be cut in later drafts, there are finally spirit like characters like the Eldil. It is intriguing to ask the question of what a disembodied consciousness could look like if it became incompletely teleported. There may be lots to explore with these characters.


The story will require the reader to play as every character but will at times present the choice of preference. Repeatedly choosing a character will create a “locking in” effect. Wherever that character lies on the spectrum will be where the reader becomes stuck as the game continues. The character preference will influence the eventual ending.


Unconscious Feedback:


EEG, Heart rate, and Skin conductance metrics are used to take data on the reader’s unconscious preference for character. Since the game is about the tension between consciousness and agency tension will be built into the code. Your conscious choices might be different from your unconscious preferences. This is how the reader opens up an alternative plot. The level of consonance between the fragmented elements of the reader’s mind will be a data point in the game’s algorithm for locking in the reader to one particular ending.


Multiple Endings:


As mentioned above, there will be at least three endings. One will be the old horizon. One will be the new. One will be a fusion. Alternative possibilities include taking paths I have not yet discovered. This is part of the research interest of this project. What other interpretations of the “hierarchy” of consciousness are there?


Possibility of Sites:


Inspired by Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic l also want to entertain the possibility of different physical locations that can be moved through a medium for non-linearity.

Theory: Fusing the Old Horizon and the New


  1. Can actually be fragmented?
  2. Is Consciousness intrinsically embodied or disembodied?
  3. Can there be disembodied agency?
  4. Are animal minds a valuable as human minds?
  5. Does agency of a being have a relationship to the value of a being?
  6. If cognition disappears does agency disappear?
  7. Is consciousness copyable? 

Work Plan:

  • At least three interpretations of the spectrum of consciousness must be chosen from a theoretical point of view.
  • Choices must be made about the focus. Initially I was interested in the characters of Cutie/Ultron (Vikki in the I, Robot film) as AI Agents who deem that human safety cannot be guaranteed without overriding human agency, begging the question of whether  As I have been writing though it seems my interests lean more toward the theoretical question of the spectrum of consciousness. It must be determined if this
  • Parameters for the biofeedback mechanism must be chosen to correspond to different possible interpretations of the spectrum of consciousness. 
  • Characters must be deliberately chosen.

Odds and Ends:

I can’t find an appropriate place in the outline for this. But some thoughts:

Maybe when they find the teleporter they find the other “halves” of themselves. Their emotions teleported but their intellect didn’t. Each one claims to be the real one – neither one knows.

Biofeedback that rejects embodiment as a component of agency will lead the reader towards disembodiment – the only thing they will have agency over will be random events.

Perhaps a crucial component in this project I have as of yet to mention is the experience of limited agency of the characters. Because their minds are fragmented, so is their agency/memory/cognition. In the game characters will try to accomplish tasks they used to be able to do, but will be unable to do so. Somehow it will be communicated that they must recover more of their mind before they can accomplish these tasks they used to be able to do.