Surrogates; or, Bruce Willis’ hair has never looked so good

typed for your pleasure on 16 October 2009, at 12.27 pm

Sdtrk: ‘A beginning word’ by Roj

Whilst at work one day last week, I was thinking about all the films I wanted to see on the big screen this year that I unfortunately missed. It was a lengthy list — Moon, District 9, Let the right one in, Tony Manero, 9, Flame and Citron, Inglourious basterds, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I think I’ve forgotten one or two — which is odd, as it’s well-documented that I loathe Hollywood. However, the one film that I really wanted to catch, which I thankfully did last Friday, was ‘Surrogates‘, directed by Jonathan Mostow. Furthermore, I was able to bring Mari along with me, partially as revenge for her making me stare at that sloshing bucket of vomitus known as ‘Transformers 2’ some months ago. You counteract Bad with Good, as far as I’m concerned.

So what’d we think? It was a brisk 88 minutes in length: Mari enjoyed it, as did I, but for differing reasons. She liked the special effects and the explosions, whereas I dug the whole idea of the Surrogates’ technology. Insert ‘DURR HEY’ here. I’ll definitely buy the DVD when it’s available, but I do have to say two words that I regrettably end up using whenever reviewing any big-budget film that covers the topic of Synthetiks: Hollywood ending. Although, as the film is based on a graphic novel that I’ve never read, I’ve no idea how close the film’s ending, or the story overall, hews to the original comic. Funnily enough, Mari and I stopped round to a Borders after the film, so I could pick up the first volume of Karakuri Odette (as mentioned here), and at one point, I was idly glancing through a copy of the Surrogates trade paperback, and it didn’t occur to me to flip to the end. Tch!
Overall, ‘Surrogates’ was inoffensive to my technosexual sensibilities, Hollywood ending notwithstanding. The opening credits, which consist of a montage sequence which serves to fill the audience in about the world in which the film takes place, had a few nods and winks to iDollators and technosexuals, such as a couple of seconds of RealDoll faces from ‘Guys and Dolls’, as well as footage of Hiroshi Ishiguro and his Android twin, Geminoid. Naturally I’m gonna point this out: as it was rated PG-13, sadly there wasn’t a single topless Gynoid to be seen, as the film’s distributor was Walt Disney Pictures. Thanks for that, Disney, you wankers.

It’s okay…

But this isn’t a review of ‘Surrogates’! What I’d like to do instead is touch upon the sociological aspects of that kind of technology existing. The Suris, as they’re often referred to in the story, are incredibly detailed and slightly enhanced human representations that are 100% artificial; however, they have no AI of their own, as they are controlled by Organik operators. To use one, you sit in your special control seat, strap on a neurovisual headband thing, and control your Suri with your mind. Obviously, the whole point of a Surrogate is not just to be able to experience life without leaving the comfort of your chair, but to do so looking your best. Your Surrogate can be made to resemble a flawless version of yourself, of course, or you can purchase generic-looking models, or you can even use one with practically any look or gender that you may desire. (There’s actually a plot point with that in the film.) As far as I gathered in the film, whatever sensations that your Suri would feel would be ones that your meat body would also feel, with the exception of pain. They kinda didn’t get into that in detail, but from certain scenes, I figured that was the case.
Therefore, as they lack AI, Surrogates are not actually true Androids and Gynoids; instead, this would be an example of what’s known as telepresence, with teledildonics being its sexier cousin. I’d mentioned Hiroshi Ishiguro and Geminoid earlier; telepresence is what’s involved when Ishiguro-san uses Geminoid to teach his classes or make appearances whilst staying at home — Geminoid is Ishiguro-san’s proxy. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the anime series ‘Ghost in the shell’, or read the manga it’s based on, telepresence is everywhere in it, particularly in the ‘Man-machine Interface’ manga. And as you’d suspect, teledildonics operates essentially the same way, only centred round sexy time. VERY NICE I LIKE
Now, the thing that struck me about Surrogate use is they are, in essence, simply highly sophisticated telephones. Think about it: when you use a phone, you are speaking to another Organik through the use of a device, as they are with you. Instead on just hearing a voice through a phone, or even a voice and an image through a videophone, there is a physical presence before you that you’re interacting with. Well, that your Suri is interacting with, but you get the picture.

…she’s affictitious

One of the plot points of the film is that Surrogates are in incredibly prolific use by most of the globe’s population — they’re ubiquitous, you can’t get away from them. But, much like in real-life, there are some segments of society that are against technological advancements, and have established human-only ‘dread zones’. Naturally, there’s a plot point dealing with that as well. The people inhabiting the dread zones live wilfully-technology-free lifestyles, like pockets of Amish living in self-imposed cultural isolation in the cities, and have banned Surrogates from even passing through the zones’ gates.
The inhabitants there follow the tenets of a man calling himself the Prophet, a cult leader who exhorts his followers to reject Surrogates, based on the premise that continued use of that sort of technology will further dehumanise society. I mean, it’s all well and good if that’s the lifestyle you wish to lead, but that sort of blinkered anti-technological mindset shouldn’t be inflicted upon others. Should a person want to utilise Surrogate technology, they should be free to do so. Considering further, the dread reservations are rather like enclaves of bigotry. If instead of hand-painted signs reading HUMANS ONLY, what if that sign said WHITES ONLY? With the continuing advancement of real-life artificial human development, there’s a genuine fear, as JM of the blog Synthetically Yours and I have discussed, of Organik humans losing their precious monopoly on humanity, which is why a person such as The Prophet existed. Naturally, there’s a deeper plot point that explains him too, but ZOMG SPOILERS

Would I use a Surrogate? As I spend a great deal of time living in my stately manor located in the so-called Uncanny Valley, the answer should be as obvious as if you’d asked me ‘do you like money?’ or ‘do you like bunnies?’, really. To be able to use a better-looking, more physically enhanced Synthetik kagemusha of myself would obviously be ideal. Detractors would say that Suri use, or an artificial human such as an Android or Gynoid isn’t ‘real’, but I’ve always defined real as ‘anything that can be perceived with any of the senses’. Therefore, a Surrogate or a Synthetik is real, they’re just not Organik.* Of course, due to the nature of Surrogate usage, i.e, reclining in a seat for hours on end, there’d be a need to exercise my meat body periodically, so muscle atrophy wouldn’t take hold, which I’d personally say would be the only disadvantage I could see to the use of a Suri. Couldn’t I simply scoop my brain out of my skull and pop it into the Suri’s head? That’d be so much easier.
If that particular technology was made available tomorrow, for example, I’d say there’d be three schools of thought concerning them. You’d have people like me grinning from ear to ear — not necessarily technosexuals per se, but people who are enthralled with technology and gadgets, people who could see the aesthetic value in a Surrogate, lazy tossers, etc; there’d be those who would be initially apprehensive, but then grow accustomed to the concept and either eventually adopt it, or realise it’s not a threat to their lifestyle; which leaves those who would be gathering up cement blocks and rusty bits of corrugated metal to use as gates for their dread zones.

‘Would humans stand in line at the grocery store behind a robot? Would I let my children play outside if I knew there were robots outside walking dogs?’ asks writer and robotics expert Daniel Wilson in this article for They’re valid points, as they detail the mindset of the second and third schools of thought I’d mentioned. Humans naturally have a fear of the unknown, but when enough people see how beneficial and even fun a development such as Surrogates (in the fictional world) or Synthetiks (in the real world) can be, not only will they cease to be a mystery, but in time, people will wonder how they managed to get on without them.

Yum! Time to check online auction houses for ‘Surrogates’ props

So here’s a question to you, the stunned reader of ‘Shouting etc etc’: would you use a Surrogate if such a thing existed? Or would you prefer to remain with your current fleshy self? How do you think you’d react if you discovered someone you knew was using one? Answers to be turned in before the end of class, please

ta very much to both Wolfgang and Pat!, for sending me links for additional research

*Can you tell I’m trying to reclaim the word ‘real’? It’s a bit like how the word ‘love’ is wildly misused. You can say that you love someone, and you can also say that you love bacon sandwiches — the usage can get vague. Though one would hope to “Bob” that it’s not the same type of love for those particular examples (‘Th… that’s not mayonnaise!!’ Yes, I went there)

Technorati tags: Surrogates, Jonathan Mostow, Android, Gynoid, robot, Karakuri Odette, technosexual, iDollators, RealDolls, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Geminoid, telepresence, teledildonics, Ghost in the Shell, Daniel Wilson, bacon

Random similar posts, for more timewasting:

A clang, followed by another clang on August 31st, 2007

Stars in their Eyes, Part II on August 5th, 2005

7 have spoken to “Surrogates; or, Bruce Willis’ hair has never looked so good”

  1. Wolfgang writes:

    Davecat, you and I have had discussions along these lines over the years (mostly re. now-sleeping creative projects). Indeed, human nature (fear of the unknown) will find new ways to express itself in the coming years. Peoples of other religions, other colors, other sexualities were obvious targets, and now the latter are on their way to full equality. I recall a study, but cannot recall where I saw it, that had actuarial tables on when states would officially allow gay marriage… our own Michigan is slated for 2012 and the final state on the list is (surprise, surprise) Alabama, which is due in 2024. In any case, the ball is rolling and is now impossible to stop.
    So yes, as soon as robots / synthetiks have advanced to the stage where they appear and act “too human”, they will be next on the list. But this isn’t a new observation, of course. Isaac Asimov handled issues of robot discrimination in his “I, Robot”, “Bicentennial Man”, and the various Elijah Bailey / R. Daneel novels and stories… starting in the 1950s. Attention audience- read them if you haven’t, or re-read them if you have. Unlike most fifties SF, they deal with sociological implications and not the typical “Robots vs. Humans” garbage that was typical of the time.
    There will undoubtedly be many more such hurdles to overcome… an endless succession, actually. It will take the discovery of sentient alien life to really unite humanity under one umbrella… and then we have to hope that our worst natures won’t lead us into interstellar warfare.

  2. Laura writes:

    I wanted to see this but drug my feet too long, I think. Have to catch it on DVD.

  3. Veach writes:

    Alternate Talking Point: Long before a pain-free virtual stroll down non-virtual Main Street could become humankind’s social (or anti-social) raison d’être, surrogate armies would, obviously, change the globe.

    Countries like little North Korea would quickly become a serious threat (remove death and pain from the equation, and they’ll absorb South Korea today, and Japan tomorrow).

    Then…countries with the most surrogates (and fastest ability to transport replacement surrogates) would be required to conquer the threat-countries in order to stop their use of surrogates (all, obviously, manufactured in neutral-China).

  4. Davecat writes:

    WG –
    Ah yes, those heady eves spent discussing The Project — good times! As you can see, I’m still doing intensive research for Dorian. 🙂

    There’s a site I ran across years ago, called ASPCR, which stands for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots. Amusing as it is, they seem serious, albeit a wee bit premature about it all. Obviously though, I’m completely behind the idea of advocacy groups that protect the rights of Synthetik humans on the same level as Organik ones. In Surrogates, damage to Suris is treated as little more than vandalism. Which kinda makes sense, as Suris aren’t sentient beings; however, it’s a slippery slope, as I’m positive there are people out there who wouldn’t give a second thought to attacking sentient robots, citing the tired ‘logic’ of ‘they ain’t human, so it’s okay’. Naturally, ‘human’ there is interchangable with ‘white’, ‘male’, ‘straight’, etc etc.

    Speaking of Asimov, don’t forget that Osamu Tezuka touched upon robot rights back in the Sixties with Tetsuwan Atomu, aka Astro Boy. In fact, I’m getting a kick out of Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto, which is a revisionist take on the Astro Boy story arc entitled ‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’. Very pertinent stuff, that…
    And you may shriek at me and call me a heretic, but I have yet to read any of Asimov’s robot stories! Have you seen the list of books I’ve yet to read?? You start from the top, and drive for a mile and a half to get to the end!…

    As much of a burning cynic that I am as regards to human nature, I’d like to believe that eventually we will have Synthetiks that are extremely close to Organiks in appearance, and that groups like ASPCR will actually have some work to do. One thing about Organiks is that we do have the ability to adapt, and become accustomed to things and ideas previously considered to be strange, so I’m sure it’ll happen — it’s just a matter of time.

    I’ll tell Sylvia you said Hi, by the way. 😉

    Lauraaaaahh –
    It might still be out in theatres near you! Check local listings for prices and showtimes. But then, I’ve heard it’s not doing so well in the box office, so it might either be gone completely, or it might be at the bargain flicks… It’s worth seeing! But I would say that. 🙂

    Veach –
    The film didn’t delve into it too deeply, but they did mention that the United states military was using, or at least, training with, Suris; another plot point hinges upon that knowledge as well.
    (As an aside, the film hit upon a bunch of topics, but only on the surface. I suppose with an 88 min film, you’re not going to have something extraordinarily philosophical, but I’d heard rumours that they were planning on a couple of sequels. However, with the aforementioned box office struggle, that may not be happening…)

    Now, in the film, and presumably the comic series, the world in which it takes place has a near-zero crime rate, due to most of its populace using Surrogates. As much as I liked that aspect, I didn’t think it was entirely realistic. If you’re using a base-model Surrogate that looks nothing like you, why not use it to knock over a bank? If they shoot at you, it’s not as if you’ll feel it! You’ll be too busy leaping from car roof to car roof, giggling all the way to your hideout, sacks of cash with a single dollar sign printed on each gripped tightly in your grasp. Take that several steps further, and something like a Surrogate army to engage in no-risk combat as you’d described is likely.

    It’s interesting, now that I think about it: Surrogates (both the comic and film) takes a predominantly Eastern approach to the concept of humanoid robotics. Asia, particularly Japan, sees robots as potential helpers to humankind — see the aforementioned Osamu Tezuka for a prime example — whereas the Western world views robots, especially humanoid ones, as either a potential threat, or a weapon to be used.

    As any non-overt weapon-based technology is a tool, it is inherently neither good nor bad. I’m not so idealistic to believe that robotic use won’t extend to the military, but my hope is that people won’t blame the technology, for lack of a better term. You can make robot tanks and robot soldiers, but by the same token, you can make robot helpers and robot companions. My hope is that Organiks reap more benefits with it, as opposed to just using it to subjugate other Organiks.

  5. Mahtek writes:

    I, for one would most gladly have a Suri! I’d use it for extreme sports, perhaps get a job as an iron worker or use it for some other purpose that my age and maturity make me want to say “No way am I doing that! I could get killed!”

    Which brings me to the subject of Suri armies. Yes, no war can be won without boots on the ground, but cyber warfare may render their benefits useless. Also, strategic weapons could still eliminate the human controllers or control transmission equipment. They could be a weapons system, but not an invincible one.

  6. Elisheba writes:

    I’m looking forward to see this movie.
    I love ‘technology’

  7. Davecat writes:

    Mahtek –
    See, that’s something. I could swim without drowning for once in my life! Hell, I could possibly even use a skateboard without breaking my damn fool neck!

    And see, that’s also something: Any technological development, whether it’s a Suri, or a robotically-guided missile, or anything that’s heavily computer-based, could simply be nullified through the use of electromagnetic pulse weaponry. If I’m not mistaken, EMP weaponry is already somewhat in use in the military; as you know, it disables electronic devices by causing high voltage spikes. Without getting further into it, yes; there’s a plot point dealing with that very same thing in ‘Surrogates’.
    So yes; Surrogate soldiers would be both useful by reducing the risk to Organik humans, and deadly by… well, reducing the risk to Organik humans, but they won’t develop into an unstoppable robot army or anything.

    Elisheba –
    Yes, go see ‘Surrogates’ before I give away too many plot points! 😉

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