Terminal Man

Finished “Terminal Man” by Crichton. It was painful to read. It was written the 70’s. Personal Computers did not yet exist. “Computer” meant a large mainframe in a climate controlled room in the basement that took lots of power. It was accessed by green-screen terminals. He kept driving at the idea that machines were becoming human and humans becoming machines. He used machine adjectives to describe humans (“automaton-like face,” “mechanically,” children are little computers waiting to be programmed, etc.) and human adjectives to describe machines (a coffee-maker was spurting coffee arterially, programs were given names, constant anthropomorphizing).

 The brain as a computer was an accepted metaphor of the day. Crichton believed then that since no organism can comprehend itself, the day would come when a computer could understand how a brain works, but we wouldn’t be able to understand the computer. It seemed significant that computers could store more data than humans. Today, computers are seens as very complex machines that use brute force and have only highlighted the non-binary nature of the human brain.

 The plot was enough to keep me going, barely. Eventually, the broken computer and the broken human are intertwined in death. The formula of taking bleeding-edge technology, projecting out the worst that can happen, then smacking arrogant scientists around for being so arrogant depends upon the technology. If the tech seems really cool, the story will seem cool. The technology and the metaphors for understanding the technology in this story are hopelessly out of date. This made it painful to read.

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