Warning: minor spoilers for season 3 of The 100 and season 4 of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Two different shows, two different takes on the hive mind trope. One comes from an A.I. that interfaces with humanity by downloading people’s brains (The 100, season 3), the other an ancient inhuman (an alien-human hybrid with powers, this one in particular aptly named “Hive”) who can subsume and control other inhumans. One robot, one alien, because sci-fi.
Both cast in a frightening light.
The fear the writers are playing on is the idea that those affected by the various hive mind predators lose their sense of self in becoming part of a greater whole. The idea, in the case of the A.I. hive mind on The 100, is based on the presupposition that one day, all we are will be found to be simply that which exists in our brains. Further, upon the idea that one day we will be able to map out and quantify everything that makes you who you are, in your brain. String out every line of code, every memory, every belief, every mannerism, turn it into quantifiable data and digitize it. What’s interesting is, if who we are truly only exists in the brain, then there isn’t this thing that many would call a soul.
And there are many who believe that human beings, in fact, don’t have a soul.
Yet, if you follow me, the writers, whether they personally believe in the idea of a soul or not (and, in fact, Joss Whedon seems to claim that he definitely doesn’t), are playing on the idea that we would lose something of ourselves, something that seems to be beyond the brain, by having them digitized such that the data could be uploaded into the A.I.’s mainframe. The effect is scary, and quite good. I’ve had some interesting conversations with people whose worldview includes the idea that there is no such thing as a soul, and yet are terrified of the idea that they could lose some “thing” of themselves.
There are, of course, people who are not terrified of this at all. People like Ray Kurzweil. Of death, yes, he is terrified (in that it is to him, understandably, a loss and a waste of human potential), but not of losing something if all we had of a person was a digital download of their brains. In fact, Kurzweil, a pioneer of the transhumanist and Singularity movements, believes that he can (and will) bring his deceased Father “back from the dead” by uploading enough information about him (his Father’s journal entries, etc.) into a computer avatar, to the point where he “couldn’t tell the difference.” To Kurzweil, if you can’t tell the difference, then there is no difference.
But, I disagree. As do, I think, the writers of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (again, Joss Whedon might tell you he doesn’t, but faith, spirituality, and the idea of the soul show up in everything he’s ever done, from Buffy onward) and The 100, as well as the writers of multitudes of books dealing with the hive mind trope. Because, well, they wrote about it in such a way as to strike fear into the hearts (or should I say “minds” and whatever else there may be of a person) of many. To become a part of this greater whole, your mind mapped out and controlled by someone else, is terrifying. Are there any examples that you can think of where this idea isn’t scary?
I can only think of one. There was this group of people, different in many ways, back in the first century, who were instructed to be “of one mind” in everything. To some, this might still be horrific, but to those around them, it was rather amazing. Rather than losing their individuality, or perhaps, their souls, they used their oneness to take care of people, to take care of each other. Many individuals, part of the same body.
But this isn’t the case for those “in the City of Light” (The 100), nor for those who’ve become a part of Hive’s, well, “hive.” And I don’t think this would be the case for you and me, if the Singularity becomes a reality such that our brains can be uploaded into, and perhaps inevitably, controlled by, a supercomputer mainframe. Kurzweil said, “It is inherently human to transcend limitations.” That may be, but this might not be a transcending-limitations kind of move. In fact, it might be pretty damn limiting, if you think about it. And it might be a pretty damn limited way to think about who we are, no?
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