Ghost in the shell

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It's well-known that the way that people choose to appear online is distinct from physical appearance, and this is often perceived as some kind of falsehood. But honestly, for someone you've never met, which is their “real" face? And do you learn more from a photograph or an avatar? This is my first departure from “pragmatic" ideas into somewhat more “spiritual" territory, which I plan to follow up for a few weeks. I hope to explore some of the human side of online interaction, since that's how most free software gets made.

The cyborg

Meet Major Motoko Kusanagi, the ultimate handicapped heroine, eponymous protagonist of Masmune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell (GitS). She is in biological terms only a “brain in a box", being what in the manga is called a “full prosthetic cyborg". Receiving near-terminal injuries in a plane crash as a young girl, essentially her entire body was replaced by a factory-made android body, a procedure, which in the story's universe is extreme, but not unheard of. Virtually everyone in Shirow's 2030s Japan has been “cyberized", however, meaning that they have an interface embedded in their brain stem allowing their brains to be attached directly into virtual reality interfaces and in most cases, allowing the brain (containing the person's “ghost" to use the GitS terminology) to be safely removed and placed into another body (called a “shell" in GitS terminology).

Like all great works of science fiction, GitS doesn't merely use metaphors, it creates them, and in the cyberpunk genre, it has become a key source for defining metaphors of the future of computer technology and the place of humans relative to it. There are, of course, dozens of points one could make about the world of GitS—certainly enough for two movies Ghost in the Shell and Innocence and the series Stand Alone Complex and S.A.C. 2nd Gig—but this isn't a review, so I'm going to move onto a particular point that the series raises about avatars.

“Avatar" has a special meaning in computer culture. In the most basic sense, it is simply the thing which is used to represent you when you interact online in a virtual reality or an online forum. Ideally, it would be a fully animated 3D model, representing your virtual body when you are in the virtual world, and also ideally, it would reflect your reactions and personality as faithfully as your body does in real life. It is a kind of answer for the distance and lack of clear emotion that is often complained about in the plain text conversations of email or usenet.

In the GitS world, this is exactly what an avatar is, and the high level of control involved is resolved through the “cyberbrain" mechanism—all nerve control is directed to the avatar, so it moves as naturally as would your body, maybe even more so. For Kusanagi, this raises an interesting question: “Which of her bodies is the ‘real’ one? The plastic and metal factory-manufactured robot that carries her brain around in the physical world, or her personally-coded computer simulated one that carries her about in cyberspace?"

Which is the real Kusanagi, the plastic and metal android or the 3D virtual reality avatar? (Frames from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series, ©2004 Masamune Shirow, Production I.G., Kodansha / Fair Use)Which is the real Kusanagi, the plastic and metal android or the 3D virtual reality avatar? (Frames from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series, ©2004 Masamune Shirow, Production I.G., Kodansha / Fair Use)

No doubt, in her case, lacking physical constraints, the avatar body is more responsive. It is almost certainly more unique than the factory model android she drives in the physical world, and it clearly reflects more of her personal choice and identity. In fact, her physical body, despite its much more aesthetically appealling styling, is in principle the same as a “Dalek" from Doctor Who, isn't it?

To such a being, “real" and “virtual" may not mean the same thing, and they are certainly not so clear cut as they are for us. In fact, to make matters worse, Kusanagi is actually obliged to replace her physical body on a number of occasions with an identical unit simply because of damage acquired in her (very dangerous) job as an anti-terrorist operative in “Section 9" (a secret para-military organization in the 2030s Japanese government). A minor theme of the S.A.C. series, in fact, are the “external memories" and personal effects that she uses to provide continuity through these changes—the watch which she always wears, for example, and to which she is clearly sentimentally attached (the significance being that the watch is actually the same watch, even though the wrist within it is a replacement).

The extension effect

As a science fiction fan, I'm comfortable with the significance of such “unreal worlds", but maybe the real world implications of the above are less clear to others. The point, however, is this: we are already experiencing some of the identity crisis of GitS. Even though we are not explicitly violating the brain-body connection, it is clear that we often extend ourselves beyond our physical bodies.

As I write this, I am not conscious of the keyboard and monitor. In fact, thinking about them makes it more difficult to type. In the most natural mode of composition, they simply disappear, becoming extensions of my body. Communicating by text in the virtual world is in that sense, very like talking.

Many activities are like this. Driving a car down the road, the control interfaces of the car (the steering wheel and pedals) become invisible and the car is merely an extension. You have a sense, after driving a vehicle for awhile, of exactly where its limits are in space, and you lose consciousness of the fact there is anything in between your brain and the wheels. For some people, the car even becomes an important part of their identity. Driving a high quality “sexy" car becomes an expression of the person's body consciousness and self esteem.

Something similar happens with video games—at least if the interface is any good. For centuries we have relied on books and other external memories, but the Internet, through the ease of searching, has invaded our actual thought processes. There are things I think I know, but I don't. What I know is how to instantly retrieve them when my global external memory is attached. As I become reliant on this kind of extended identity, losing my Internet connection is like a lobotomy—I feel an almost physical sense of loss as a portion of my intelligence is removed. I've become dependent on a new brain center that isn't located inside of my body.

Virtual identity

Meanwhile, the reverse is happening as well. Even if there are biological nerves, arms, and fingers involved in the interface, we are still connecting our brains to our digital presences on the Net, and we use avatars of various kinds when we do that.

Back in the days when usenet and email were the state of the art, we identified via ASCII signatures—some containing elaborate ASCII art depictions, others merely carrying pithy quotes, like personalized license-plates on the Net, just as emotions came to be conveyed by textual emoticons like this: ;-).

Today, there actually are virtual reality forums, like the MMORPG-based Second Life, which has become increasingly popular as a gathering place, particularly for Creative Commons fans (but they are by no means the only inhabitants of “Linden", the “in world" city of Second Life). Now, Second Life involves a fairly high standard for client platform, and not everyone can use it yet, which is why all my information about it is second-hand (mostly for hardware and connectivity reasons, as there is a Linux client for Second Life, since early this year).

Mia Garlick in real life (left, Flickr:nicsuzor/CC-By-SA) and Second Life (right, as “Mia WombatMia Garlick in real life (left, Flickr:nicsuzor/CC-By-SA) and Second Life (right, as “Mia Wombat", New World Notes:Wagner James Au/Fair Use).

Even though Second Lifers (presumeably) have real and original human bodies to go home to, they might nevertheless find certain things more attractive about their virtual ones, since they are under their own control. Some users—like Mia Garlick, a prominent legal counsel for Creative Commons—have opted to create avatars remarkably similar to their real appearance (see figure), while others have opted to be dragons, fish, lizards, or bizarre undefineable things in their virtual existence.

For those of us whose computers are still a few years behind the state of the art, there are a plethora of more conventional web fora based on such packages as PHP BB, which provide various kinds of threaded conversation interfaces. Many of these allow “avatars" to be used which are simply small static pictures —usually of faces or face-like pictures. In these fora, emotional content is still transmitted by emoticons, although they frequently take the form of graphical smilies, rather than the ASCII art ones we are used to from usenet.

Yet, even here, the power of the avatar as an identity is stronger than you might think. After all it's just a little 100×100 picture, why should I even care about it? Yet, an avatar is far more personal and expressive than a username. It's also instantly recognizable, like a face. You learn to recognize your friends, so that you immediately know who's speaking and you subconsciously provide context to what they say.

On one particularly successful PHP BB forum (which has been running for at least six years), avatars are used as “seniority badges" for new users: there are a series of classes between 1 and 1000 posts. There are of course, abuses of this system (“forum spamming"), but active moderation keeps these under control, so there is a fair correlation between “post count" and “real experience". I was brand new at web forums (though I'd been using mailing lists and usenet for many years) when I first joined, and I was really surprised at the degree of motivation that those silly little pictures provided. Even I felt it.

Once you get experience on the forum, you then get to choose an avatar, which becomes your identity on the system. You become much more of an individual person when you reach that point, because people know your online “face", and respond to it. They associate it with the kinds of posts that you make, and they learn to consider what you say much more in a total context of who they think you are. People feel like they “know" you. It wasn't long before I became a moderator on this forum, and so my personal identity is much more important to users who want to know what I'm up to, how I'm likely to react, and who “don't want me sneaking up on them", as one poster put it. Recently I considered replacing my avatar with a new one, simply because my old one is fan art based on a licensed anime series, and therefore of somewhat questionable licensing (or at least originality). My newer avatar, which I use on other forums I've joined since then is original.

However, I got feedback asking me not to change. Not that anyone suggests I shouldn't have the right to, but people get comfortable with familiar avatars, just as they do with familiar faces, and conservativism tends to be preferred.

On another forum (where I use the newer avatar, by the way), the atmosphere is a bit different. Individuals choose their own avatars as soon as they join (your post count affects a “rank" tag that appears over the avatar, but is much less prominent and is plain text). Changes in avatar are more common on this forum, which is much more specific in topic, as it is a fan forum for a web comic. People tend to retain the same theme and design for their avatars, but often make alterations based on events in the story. For example, for awhile, everybody put virtual blue “Smurf" caps on their avatars, and when the plotline went into an alternate universe storyline, posters created photo-negative or mirror-image versions of their avatars to follow along with the plotline. So there is much more avatar play on this forum, but the same pattern of conservative identity prevails—Limax with a Smurf cap is still recognizeably Limax.


I'm rather shy of posting real pictures of myself—or indeed any deeply personal information, but I'm not very careful about it, and I feel a bit ambivalent. I'm not bothered at all if people I already know make the connection, though I am a little concerned about spambots being able to collect enough information to make detecting them difficult, I also have the feeling that sooner or later I'm going to be recognized if I'm going to be at all successful in communicating. Still, I'm not always sure if I'd rather be known by my physical face or my avatar.

Some low-tech avatars are just face-like pictures. Pamela Jones is rather famously known by the drawing at left, drawn by J.D. “IlliadSome low-tech avatars are just face-like pictures. Pamela Jones is rather famously known by the drawing at left, drawn by J.D. “Illiad" Frazer. The one on the lower right is the avatar I use at Anime Cafe (it's a fan art drawing of Yurika from Martian Successor Nadesico of somewhat questionable licensing, although this is probably fair use), while the one at the upper right I use at Keenspot (a character I designed for cartoon illustrations in a work-in-progress book).

Someone who certainly is very careful is Pamela Jones, famous as the creator of Groklaw. She also has a print magazine column, and I find it interesting that she uses an avatar in place of the usual author photo even in the magazine. I've never seen her real face, and I'm not sure if it can be found anywhere on the web or not. I know she's taken other steps to remain anonymous and frankly, she's a bit paranoid about it (her life, her prerogative).

Not long ago a reporter with a pro-SCO agenda (that would be a euphemism for “anti-Groklaw"), wrote a rather disturbing piece about trying to track Pamela Jones down. I say disturbing, because what she was doing was undeniably “stalking", and that's a threatening behavior, even if you intend no violence. But what I couldn't get over was the idea that O'Gara apparently thought that any of what she was writing was relevant, because I already know who Pamela Jones is: she's the person who runs Groklaw. I've sparred with her in words online, and found her site an invaluable resource of information. I already feel a connection as personal there as I need to get (not that that's a lot). To me, Pamela Jones looks like a “big-eyed, red-haired woman wearing a red dress while SCO sinks behind her". Maybe when the whole SCO case is over she'll delete the SCO “Titanic" part of that drawing, but I hope she keeps the face.

If in the physical world, Ms. Jones is physically a “91 year old woman in New York" or a “40 year old guy in Maine" or a “25 year old woman in California" just doesn't matter to me. Why should I regard that as any more real than the person I know online? I've met a few people offline who I first knew online, and in general, it's been a non-plussing experience. I'd just as soon go back to chatting with them electronically and forget the “real" person. There's very few exceptions.

Not that I feel it's good to misrepresent reality—I'm always quick to remind posters that, “I am not in fact a girl with purple hair". But isn't it really the “ghost" we care about, not the “shell", be it virtual or physical?


Additional notice: the images in this article are believed by me to be used in accordance with the terms of “fair use", however that may or may not apply to any other use of the images.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I sort of thought PJ was a 62-63 year old woman in New York. But it may just be yet another person with the same name living in the same general location.

Terry Hancock's picture

Maybe. None of my examples necessarily indicate real claims. The emphasis here is on the not caring. ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It may be that you can read something into the avatars, but just what does vary from person to person. For example, I use exclusively female characters in any game. This has one very simple reason, and it's not the one that people think of immediately. "This guy wants to be a chick," is the gut reaction. Quite the opposite is true: I simply prefer to look at an attractively-rendered female for hours and hours over looking at a guy.

But that's just me.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Ah, nice to see somebody finally picking up on the depth of Gits.

Gits SAC literally plays with varitions of the identity change technology brings about. Not only is the main heroine a brain with a artificial body.

  • The first Gits movie is about an elite hacker (a programm really) that ghost hacks people (hacking their cyberbrains) and constructs a new identiy in them to furthen their goals. The poor sods believe they *are* the puppet-master, while they're just a puppet.
  • Practically the complete first season (SAC 1) is about a phenomenon called "Laughing man", where various people adopt that "identiy" to implement their agendas.
  • The complete second series (SAC 2) is about a phenomenon like the laughing man, (emerging) "The particularist Eleven". It triggers subversive plotting behavior in individuals. However, it's not that they've been plainly ghost hacked, but that the combination of a common virus and having read a particular text changes their personality.
  • One episode of the first season is about a robotic engineer who dies of a terminal illness. A colleque puts his brain into one of the battle bots he so loved to create, and he then goes on a rampage which almost concludes in him killing his parents. Altough his actions are violent, it's theorized by the Major (who burns out his brain) that they're motivated by pride and love.

For below quote I'd have included a reference to accelerando by Charles Stross.

As I become reliant on this kind of extended identity, losing my Internet connection is like a lobotomyâ€"I feel
an almost physical sense of loss as a portion of my intelligence is removed. I've become dependent on a new
brain center that isn't located inside of my body.

Accelerando is a lot about virtual identiy, among other things completely including the virtual lobotomy you mention. But also about distributed identiy, bodyless existence as a virtual entity and the singularity (as in the Kurzweil sense). Particularly interesting also the prespective of decaying super-intelligence cought in it's high-bandwith well of a solar system.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The assumed correlation between post count and experience on many phpBB forums does annoy me. But then a lot of things about the way most phpBB-style forums are set up is annoying, such as the need to register just to post one comment, or the over-abundance of smileys.

Give me a 2ch/futaba style message board any day over phpBB!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

That is a great story I must say.

I'm a long fan of GitS. With that being said, I've never identified what I was really liking in it. Now I think it is everything you said here.

The Internet extension of the memory made me laugh, because I really feel like I've been lobotomized when I've got no connection at all. Thus remind me that I've never been disconnected for quite some years now.

I got my first internet connection at 16. I have 23 now, and I never ever been without internet since then. Which make me feel like a ghost in the net without a real identity. In fact I would love to be in the internet just like the Major in the GitS Innocence.

Anyway in the 2004-2005 school year, I've been studying far away from home and I was quite forced to quit my internet identity. So I just became a "real" person. I didn't know this so well before, so I just "created" a new personnal identity, as you do when you are creating your avatar, or thinking about your "pseudonyme" on the internet. And I was quite confortable with this, I was enjoying it.

Just like being yourself. It was an huge thing, just like feeling the real life. It's not like the virtual world you know.

Now I quit the "far away" school for one next to my home. And I feel like I lost my real identity again.

So this brings a question that you might answer: what is the best to have. An identity that may be you dislike in the real world, but that is real for sure. Or have an ideal identity, personnalised, that you created, but that is not so real.

I think it could be dangerous for people like me if they fail to love the real world. In fact I do so much love everything in the world that I could not quit the real life, but not everyone feel the same.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You should read True Names by Vernor Vinge, really hit this issue deeply, almost two decades before GiTS.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I've been doing online comics for a long time. In my comics I've had an "avatar" to represent myself in the work and have used the same cute drawing as a representative of myself for many years online. When it comes to thoughts, opinions, and positions there I aim to be as real to the "real" me as if you met me in person. I've changed the "look" of my avatar based on how I'm wearing my hair or if I've gained weight or not so perhaps mine is a tad bit more realistic than a lot of what you suggest here for most people. A lot of my readership knows me "only" as that online version. I've met many of them in person at comic book conventions and the like and most of them say that "I'm very much like how I present myself online" which I guess is becoming rarer and rarer these days. It's an interesting commentary and I look forward to your further examinations.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Once when I was playing Everquest the phone rang (in real life) and I typed into the chat box, "Hello". The phone kept ringing, I paused for a second and then realized what I had just done. Oops! Dam neural connectors!

Terry Hancock's picture

Sure. But then "watching some anime" isn't my only credential, and being an "expert in science fiction" isn't my claim. I read and watch SF for pleasure, and it forms many of the metaphors that make up my literary/mythical framework for relating to the world. Any work being the "original source" of any idea is always a deeply contentious point, because ideas are evolutionary. The important point here isn't that GiTS invented all of these ideas, but that watching it inspired this train of thought.

Maj. Kusanagi is a great SF example of both the "cyborg" and the "avatar", and raises some nice questions I particularly wanted to talk about here. Plus, there's a picture! ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

While reading your entry, I must say that I was certainly expecting to see you mention Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, as it is widely known to be one of the key works of fiction that popularized the term 'avatar' as we know it today.

Granted, as seen from the entry title, your focus was on GitS. It was an intriguing article nonetheless. ;)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"Alrighty then, picture this if you will:"

You are perceiving the avatar from a human standpoint. An avatar is ideally a lot more than you yourself can be as a human. It is an enhancement of yourself, an avatar ideally gives you a lot more freedom and a lot more shortcuts of expression.
Ideally an avatar would replace you as a human.

But yeah, the birthplace of the avatar would be our human communication needs. So as of now it is limited.

Ah I see, that's kind of the point you're trying to make isn't it?

Ok so let me add some fact to fiction:
* We have implanted chips in human brains that can process signals and control a computer. Mind driven machinery already exists.
* The other way around also exists. We have implanted chips in rat brains that send signals to make the rat do things. Machine driven minds already exist. (I haven't seen any human tests though)

Basically, a virtual reality like the matrix would likely be possible.

However, as you said, the other way around is important. Consider spending hours upon hours trying to gain experience for your avatar (take a videogame character from world of warcraft). You could in fact use those hours to gain non virtual experience for your non virtual self... ermm..
the point I'm trying to make is this:
There might be a day when we exist as virtual beings. As of now we are human and as our world prospers the pressure to survive decreases. In short we no longer know what to do with our lives and start doing all kinds of weird things. That's not going to go away. But it'll be interesting and a big diversion.

Oh hey mr anonymous coward person sir:
I hope True Names is any good and does indeed go further than gits. Do you know enough of gits to make that statement? Well, in any case, I'm going to find out. Thanks for the tip.

Yet another anonymous coward I guess...
zjorz at hotpop dot com
funky male 26 netherlands just in case

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

This really struck a chord with me, because I have been on a freeform, text-based roleplaying site for almost nine years. It is known to its users as The Keep.

It has long occurred to me that being able to express hidden, or unused facets of my personality there have been vital in my personal growth. It is so easy to let how people perceive our shells dictate what we can, or will, do irl.

For instance, on the Keep, I've played dragons, wereleopards, elves and other creatures. I have also explored playing as different genders. *THAT* was an eyeopener.

The stories I've created and the people I have met (some in real life as an extention of this particular chatroom) have enriched my experience, and I seriously doubt I would have had any of it if all anyone ever saw of me was my 'real' body, which truthfully has nothing to do with the parts of me that are most essential.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

For completeness, you can also lip sync your photo to someone else's voice. Image-me customises avatars to the extreme: they are your virtual 3D projection of real faces.

If you are too shy to posting real pictures of myself, you can have them animated for you in three dimensions. The resulting avatar is visually you, it just doesn't behave like you. It might as well scream James Brown's 'I feel good!' or any other soundbite for that sake. Posting photorealistic animated avatars is becoming increasingly popular in sites where the profile of users is both public and visually rich like Myspace.

I believe that is is only a matter of time before the indidivuals start to use advanced avatars with their true image but with voices and behaviours imported from other real-life individuals.

Rose Gener

Terry Hancock's picture

Sounds like pretty cool technology, but of course, many people may not want to be "themselves" in their virtual communities.

Of course, you might be able to borrow a face, but there's something a little creepy if it's actually a photograph of an actor or model -- since it's not just "not your face" it's also "somebody else's face". Also in principle, you don't want to use a face that anyone else might be using.

Seems like some kind of constructed face is going to be more desireable.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Here is something to think about in regards to Kusanagi. The only difference between her body and the ones we use is that hers is manufactured. In the end we are still brains in boxes with ghosts. The only difference is the materials being used and the source of their make. Batou as you may have seen watching the series doesn't see that in her. He only can see the human within(Anyone who has watched the show knows that he has a big crush on her)lol Also I would like to point out that her body is more than an android body. It's designed to replicate every aspect of her originial one so the brain is fooled into thinking it's in her original body. She eat's she sleeps, and does all the things that make a human...well human. Her body also has no plastic or silicon. If it where real I'd say it would be a miricle of nanobiotechnology because her skin, eyes, tounge and muscle are engineered organic tissue encorperated into a titanium skeletal structure. She operates the body no differently than anyone else uses their natural ones. It works from direct neural control interfaced at the base of her protective braincase. So in regards to the difference between which is her. I think they both are. Each one representing a different part of her personality. If you look hard I'm sure you'll notice that the eye and hair color on her Avatar body "Chroma" are reversed from her physical one. Just some info to think on a bit. Oh, would I swap into a cyborg body? In nanosecond. lol

baronsamedi's picture

I've joined Second Life a week ago.
Without wasting so much as a single brainwave on it I entered the virtual world as myself - a 1:1 avatar version of how I exist in real life - with the only difference being my first and last name (first for privacy and last for lack of choice for last names) and my virtual digital appearance being half human half animal.
It's true avatars often reflect their user's most desired wishes; For me it was the appearance of my totem animal, with which I am just as comfortable as I am with my own human body, and comes from certain spiritual beliefs I carry with me in my real life.

Avatars also allow you to experience things such as emotions differently; being human in the real world is something we don't often think of, it's a way of life and we don't know any better until we stop to think and look at ourselves.
Driving an avatar whose appearance is physically different from your real body inherently changes (at least) some small parts of your social behaviour and the ways you think. In a way, it makes you more conscious about many things.
For me, i've found my Second Life avatar is regarded as attractive and often find myself at the receiving end of friendly affection such as hugs, something that is somehow harder to accomplish in the real world; but realising that I am a working man whom doesn't have a lot of spare time to spend outdoors enjoying life with it's many opportunities, I myself am the architect of my own lack of the things I experience when driving an avatar.

You could say that living an online life erodes your offline life. This is true to an extent, if you lack moderation and can't pry your fingers off that mouse and keyboard for more than half a day at a time you are indeed the architect of your own demise.
Which in turn is part of becoming more conscious: You (should) learn that there is more to life and that you'll have to reach for the high fruits yourself, they won't come down to you by themselves.

For me the virtual reality of Second Life and the many other tools The Internet offer me is an extension of myself and my means of communicating with a part of my group of friends, but it is by no means a replacement of my life in the real world where I live and breathe, and work on my future.
As such, i'm currently unable to fully imagine how it would be to have my mind reside permanently in an artificial body such as Kusanagi's own cyborg body and live with things such as the regular maintenance required to it's mechanical components and the unavoidable risks of unpredictable faillure.
Could you live with the knowledge your original physical body has died of disease, accident or old age, even see it lying lifeless in a coffin while your mind as your very essence remains 'alive' in another body?
Could you separate yourself from that which you regarded as being 'you'?
But who knows how this world of ours will change and how much? it will be interesting to say the least to see further developments on technology such as brain interfaces.

As a last side note, through online social gatherings and gaming activities I have made many friends I hope I may enjoy the presence of for the rest of my life, which apart from the massive available knowledge online feels very enriching and humbling at the same time.

Thank you for this article.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Imagine being in an artificial body that duplicates the functions of the originial except better. Kusanagi has enhanced senses including all five senses. As well as being able to communicate with others via internal cellular cybercom. From first person point of view it wouldn't "feel" any different. The body is designed to fool the person's brain into thinking it is still in it's own body. In order to do that it has to replicate the natural bodies'functions. I think people are too attached to their bodies. The body is not who the person is. The body itself is basically an interface so you can experience the physical world around you. It's a naturally made "Shell". Her body by comparison is better. It doesn't age or get sick and it's more durable. The regular maintanence that she has to go through really is comparable with visiting the Doctor for a checkup. So that isn't really a big deal. Although if anyone is familiar with the show's second season one of the characters uses a "maintanence free body". It's actually able to regenerate damaged tissue. All in all like the world of Ghost in the Shell you will have some people for enhancement and some that are against it. In the end people usually lean toward technology as they learn that it's not going to hurt them or change them or who they are. If a person uses a prosthetic heart does that make them a different person? I think we know the answer to that.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

i have loved every secong of gits, but on the concept of ghosts i think people are reading far too much into what is realistically possible. basically going by the laws of physics as we know them and on which computers work it is only possible for physical things to exist and interact together and all of this is done by causality. basically the notion of a mind/ghost seperate to the body is a fabrication of the past millenia of religious intuition, there can be no ghost as all that we have are our physical selves so all of what we are,desire,feel is contained in our brains so the possibility of transferring our selves into a cyber brain is impossible as it would have none of our abilities to feel as with a human body. it would merely be a collection of previous experience i.e. a memory bank, still would be cool.

Terry Hancock's picture

Intriguingly, most people who make this monist argument conclude the opposite (i.e. that it is possible to transfer consciousness, which they then imagine to be a mechanistic process into a cybernetic body).

You might be intrigued to consider that your body does not currently consist of the same atoms (and to a large degree the same cells) as it did when you were born. Your concept of "self" is associated with what might best be thought of as a kind of wave of organization that passes through the material world, not a single piece of matter at all.

In GITS, this issue is left fairly mystical and unexplained. There is a general idea that there is some as-yet-undiscovered (or perhaps fundamentally ineffable) quality that resists copying. "Copying a ghostline" results in deterioration (in the GITS universe, I mean).

In reality, the question is clearly more complex. I wrote another blog that goes into this whole issue more explicitly.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Physics and philosophy were once the same discipline. Both attempt to explain the way the world works. Quantum physics tells us that something can exist as both a particle and a wave. We can now carry cell phones with more computing power than the PCs of ten years ago. Seems a bit early to be deciding what's "realistically possible," no?

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Submitted by jons on

If your avatar falls do you feel it?

No, really. Think about it. Focusing on what your ( or someone else's ) avatar IS to you ( or them ) isn't really the point. Mr. Hancock mentions driving a car as an example of a form of 'virtual reality' & likens it to the experience he's had w/ his ( & other's ) avatars. While that's fine in the context of his article, I think its important to remember a few facts. The 'driving a car' thing has an understandable application NOW, while we can ( & still do ) drive cars. But if the price of fuel keeps rising, at some point the 'average' person will lose the economic ability to drive. Shortly afterward, his use of that analogy will also lose its 'power,' its ability to connect the reader w/ the experience he's describing thru his analogy. In other words, he's using a relative 'known' factor to describe something that he KNOWS many people haven't thought of that way.
( Actually, not a bad choice, considering his apparent goal. ) The problem is this; all too often we humans think that because some of us THINK of a certain thing, that its possible, or acceptable, or even 'good,' from someone's ( limited ) point of view. Reality is often different. An example is the current debate regarding violence in entertainment. Many feel that because its 'fiction,' that makes it all right, nothing to worry about, just ignore it; bla, bla bla,. But too many medical studies are showing that it has REAL EFFECTS on REAL PEOPLE. Avatars are similar, as Mr Hancock pointed out. People begin to relate to them AS IF THEY ARE THE REAL PERSON! Now, I don't know about you, but I've made a conscious effort to first, ignore other people's avatars, & second, to avoid using one myself. Don't get the wrong idea, I HAVE tried out one or two, just to be sure that I've got a clear understanding of what avatars do, or can do, in some circumstances. Some free online email suppliers provide some limited abilities to customize a personal avatar for their clients. One of my first ones turned out pretty good I thought. I even had my wife review it, because Hey!, who knows me better, right? So she looks at it & says Hey! It looks like you! ( In a cartoony way, of course.) I thought about it for awhile & I came to this conclusion. While many people use fantasy/fantastical or mythological or even 'iconic' types of avatars, they are doing so in a deliberate attempt to 'project' an image that is NOT 'realistic.' If you are using an avatar(s), do you do so as actual extension of who/what you REALLY are? ( Like some illustrated in the article. ) Or is this another one of those immature, irrational, or even narcissistic attempts to try convey an imaginary or 'wishful' image to people who, due to factual circumstances, don't have the ability to 'discern' what you're really like?
In other words, are avatars being used to project a realistic image of the kind of person that they are representing, or is their use more as a mask? Don't think that this is not a serious subject, or a serious question. It doesn't take much research to find out that there are serious issues involved whenever humans start to put on masks. Even the 'cartoon superheros' who wear masks ( disguises ) to 'protect' their 'secret identities' have come under some very serious discussion by the psychological research community. There are very real problems w/ masks, disguises, 'secret identities,' and yes, even avatars. People have been known to 'become' someone else while wearing/hiding behind an image that they know misrepresents who or what they really are. Mr Hancock touched the edges of the debate when he mentioned "some kind of falsehood." Its not about you using an avatar that deliberately misrepresents who you are. Its about the ( psychological ) problems that we humans begin to experience whenever we lose touch with the reality of a situation.
And that's the connection to open-source as opposed to closed-source software. In EVERY instance, closed-source is about those ones who have lost touch w/ the reality of the situation. ONLY open-source can provide the REAL, CLEAR, and necessary connection between the software provider and the one(s) that the software was actually written FOR! Anything else is just more farce.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You Guys really know your stuff i have been a good fan og GITS for a long time great work

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Terry Hancock's picture


Terry Hancock is co-owner and technical officer of Anansi Spaceworks. Currently he is working on a free-culture animated series project about space development, called Lunatics as well helping out with the Morevna Project.