English 165LB: Literature & Biotechnology (W11)

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Discussion: The Surrogates

Posted by rraley on March 8, 2011

// Discussion thread for surrogates, proxies, designing the self


28 Responses to “Discussion: The Surrogates

  1. Katherine Courtney said

    Today I found a couple of links for robots that look like humans and impersonate humans. One is by Hiroshi Ishiguro:

    The second is the one that I saw today:

    I don’t know much about it, just thought I would share the videos. It’s quite freaky.

    • Jonathan Berthet said

      The videos above prompted me to look at others. While the video below shows robots not quite as realistic-like than the ones above, the commentary and hope of the interviewers about the future of robots is especially intriguing.

      I thought that it was interesting that similar to Surrogates, the people engineering the robots in Japan were doing it for very humanitarian purposes. One robot is being programmed to care for the old and another robot animal was used as a form of supplement of regular animals. These robot animals are viewed in the spotlight as equal to life in ways that once the human interacts with the machine, the idea of the machine goes out the window, as the interaction becomes human, with one being human, the other being machine.

      • Jonathan Berthet said

        After seeing the a few videos of the current development of robots today, I noticed that these researchers were not advertising their robots based on cost, but on benefit to society. In fact, one of the robots encouraged behavior seen in “Surrogate” where you could do many of your activities around the office at work, while “sitting on your couch at home.”

        As of now, many of the robots are advertised for the medical industry or even space. This makes me wonder if there will be a growing societal gap between the robot-haves and robot have-nots. As robots eventually become marketable to the average private consumer, it will be interesting to see if there will be a dominating and hegemonic type of robot or purpose for robots, much in the same way as the “surrogate” robot operates or even how iphones or ipads are such a sensation for operating in the world. In other words, determined by the invention of the robot, will we also define our lives according to what is created. Much in the same way in “Oryx and Crake” where diseases were created for populations to keep a certain industry running, it is appropriate to ask if the creation of Robots will help us re-define what we need in life. And if Robots will be made because the Robots created a way of life that was wanted, not needed.

        While these are abstract inquiries, one only has to look at the Apple, Inc. sensation to get an idea of real humans react to wants than needs.

      • Anna Shusterman said

        This video of the Japanese robots is extremely creepy. They might be designed for good reasons i.e. providing care for the elderly, but they are still machines and can have “bugs” or malfunction. Even machines that are designed flawlessly can have issues. The video describes the robots as future companions for people. This is also disturbing because it suggests that robots can have a relationship with people, like a friendship. Even if you program a robot to have facial expressions and some amount of emotional intelligence, they are not people and can’t therefore have a relationship with people other than that of tool or aid.
        This is a video of a robot that responds to touch:

        It’s pretty creepy, she can “feel pain”, this one is designed to be some kind of assitance, seems like the next version will be designed to be someones girlfriend. This makes me feel like people are just using any excuse to avoid having actual human contact. We are heading in the direction of Surrogates

  2. Eric Perez said

    At the end of Surrogates the detective’s wife Margaret commits suicide because she rather die then live a life without a surrogate. This idea of not wanting to live in reality and wanting to live in a filtered unreal life made me think of an article I read when the James Cameron film Avatar came out. People where becoming depressed and suicidal because they wanted to live in a life where the world of Avatar is real some even said that they wanted to commit suicide hoping that they would be reborn as a Na’vi (10 foot tall peaceful blue alien) in the world of Pandorum. I thought at first that this was funny but then came to see that it is really sad that people don’t want to live in reality and want to exist in an unreal place.

  3. Eric Merenstein said


    This is a book about a contest where people interview robots and humans to see if they can determine who is a robot and who not. Apparently the winner was a human and he just acted with violent emotion. I saw this on the daily show just yesterday though i dont know if it was a new episode. The guy said that u can program computers to be violently emotional as well but eventually the judgers realize nothings home. Then john stewart made the joke a human is a human when they trip walking down the street and look up and say, “i meant to do that.”

  4. Becca Smedley said


    I stumbled across this really awesome video this morning about a man in Holland who makes “new forms of life”. These life forms are actually kinetic structures built from pvc piping and other non-electronic materials that allow it to move with only help from the wind. It is interesting the way he refers to them as “his offspring” and says that he hopes one day they will be able to leave home and live permanently on their own on the Dutch sand dunes. It is very similar to comments you may hear a parent making about the children they gave birth to. Although, they are clearly not living, breathing organisms, it is intriguing to think about them in relation to our discussion of the definition of life. When Theo Jansen, the sculptor, refers to them as “new forms of life”, he seems to be defining life as anything that can move on it’s own and be independent. Compared to robots and artificial intelligence, this is a pretty innocent idea, but none the less, the idea that we can create life in any form is one that could certainly boggle your mind!

  5. Paige Kensil said

    While reading Surrogates, even though it was about people living through actual robots I couldn’t help thinking about the way the internet and social networking sites allow people to have virtual ‘Surrogates’ in the sense that the internet allows you to present yourself any way you want. This has always been creepy to me and we have all heard about the Craigslist Killer as well as people meeting people they met online and the person turning out not to be who they had presented themselves as online. Although in Surrogates the surrogates were used as a way to reduce crime and make the world a safer place, it sometimes seems as though the internet is creating a world that is much less safe since it can be a way for criminals to lie and deceive people. There is a movie coming out next month on this subject, specifically about a young girl who meets what she thinks is a teenage boy who shares her same interests but turns out to be a creepy old man. Though this is often joked about it is a very scary reality that we all face everyday when we log onto facebook and other sites, especially if we are taking friend requests from anyone who sends them. Here is a link to the trailer of the movie, Trust:


    • The stalking aspect of the internet is indeed scary. We often leave different bits of data in different places, but never dream that someone could aggregate it in order to use it against us. One small example of this can be found in the case of the xbox live stalker

      http://www.gamefront.com/man-arrested-for-stalking-girls-through-xbox-live/ (what a vague title : )

      There aren’t a lot of details here, but its a concrete example of online stalking. It’s a cautionary example of how easy it is to track someone down. People make online avatars for this reason. I’m going to bore into gaming as an example of avatars because there are some fascinating dynamics.

      There are many different layers of mediation. To quickly gloss: You register with an email, then create a username (xbox live is my example), then you literally create a 3d online avatar, equipped with customizable hair,clothes, and accessories (this could be a whole blog post in itself, then you might even possibly have an additional in game name, and finally you have the last layer of your in game character.

      I think that people see all of these as a cumulative form of protection from identification. But, they do not realize how easily all of these layers can be punctured (see my link). Someone can slice through all of this given the correct information. I’ll provide an additional example. You have a generic online xbox live username: Gamer573, but you use your real name in your profile because its attached to your credit card. Someone plays with you, and you, banking on your anonymity, swear profusely at them. In casual conversation with another player you happen to mention an upcoming local basketball game.

      Someone could easily google you, and find your facebook. Lets say you’re real careful and your profile is totally locked down. That doesn’t even matter, because they still have access to your profile picture. Depending on how unique your name is, they now know who you are, where you are, and what you look like.

      This may seem far fetched, but it isnt. Check out this link:

      There are millions of people online, and chances are that a percentage of them will be irresponsible with their privacy. Chances are that a small fraction of these users will also be crazy enough to hunt you down in real life to settle a shouting match that you had onlnine. People need to be aware that although these layers of anonymity may be numerous, they also have the potential to be paper thin.

    • Becca Smedley said

      I also was thinking about our “surrogates” on social networking sites like Facebook. Even in a more innocent form than stalkers, who purposely adapt their profile in order to fool people into liking them, we are all somewhat presenting ourselves in a manner of our preference. It is similar to the surrogates in the book, where we can decide how we want to be portrayed, although it is in more simple ways, like our movie preferences or displaying the pictures we think we look best in. It’s so interesting because before this class, I had never thought of our profiles in this way, but we essentially are creating a surrogate to go live for us in the cyber world. Yikes!

  6. Jason Whitehead said

    After reading some of the comments and checking out the book The Most Human Human referred by Eric, I couldn’t help but think of the recent IBM challenge on Jeopardy. Watson is an AI computer developed to answer questions posed in natural language. A month ago, in a test of it’s abilities, Watson competed on the quiz-game show Jeopardy, in a two-game combined point match two of the most winning contestants in Jeopardy history. Watson consistently outperformed its human opponents on the game’s signaling device, but had trouble responding to a few categories, notably those having short clues containing only a few words. For each clue, the television screen displayed Watson’s three most probable responses. The computer had access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming four terabytes of disk storage, including the full text of Wikipedia. Watson was not connected to the Internet during the game.

    Check out the video of Watson on the show.

    After reading some of the comments and checking out the book The Most Human Human referred by Eric, I couldn’t help but think of the recent IBM challenge on Jeopardy. Watson is an AI computer developed to answer questions posed in natural language. A month ago, in a test of it’s abilities, Watson competed on the quiz-game show Jeopardy, in a two-game combined point match two of the most winning contestants in Jeopardy history. Watson consistently outperformed its human opponents on the game’s signaling device, but had trouble responding to a few categories, notably those having short clues containing only a few words. For each clue, the television screen displayed Watson’s three most probable responses. The computer had access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming four terabytes of disk storage, including the full text of Wikipedia. Watson was not connected to the Internet during the game.

    Check out the video of Watson on the show.

  7. Alejandro Miranda said

    As per our conversation(s) in the last few classes regarding human alterations via surgeries, implants, etc. I found this article in the LA Times to be a true-life example.


    The subject of this piece is a young woman who received the first hand-transplant done at UCLA medical center.
    The funny thing about this article is that it evoked thoughts that were in contrast to the ones I had in class during our discussions. While in class, we mainly viewed ideas such as human organ transplants, genetic engineering, muscle grafts, and the like in a negative light. Of course, this was most likely a result of the runaway mad science theme our literature was comprised of but I still walked away with a the notion that for the most part human alteration through scientific means was unnatural and disturbing, possibly even detrimental to society.

    After reading this article though, I began to think of the effect some of these science fiction like procedures may have on individuals rather than on society as a whole. For instance, in the case of the young woman in the article her quality of life was dramatically increased. Her hand transplant has enabled her to button a shirt, type with both hands and brush the hair off her daughter’s face.
    It seems to me the main issue of this subject matter is regulation, making sure we don’t keep ourselves from developing ground breaking treatments and procedures that can improve the lives of individuals, while also making sure we stay within ethical boundaries; the global cultures created in Never Let Me Go and Harvest, have lost their moral buffer.

    • Matt Ferguson said

      I’ve felt the same way. I tend to find science fiction suggests that we be wary of technology, if not outright fear it. Professor Raley certainly tried to avoid being avidly anti-technology, and several of the books tried to leave gray area and show both the good and the bad, but it seems to be the tendency of literature to caution against a technologically advanced future.

      But perhaps it isn’t such a terrible thing. It’s good to get different points of view and with remarkable procedures such as the one you’ve linked to showing how wonderful technology can be, perhaps there needs to be a strong counterbalance.

  8. Chayanm E. Garcia said

    I find it really interesting how the subject of electronic surrogates is presented as some type of futuristic technology that we have yet to master. But the more I read about it, the more I find out how we find ourselves in the middle (if not in the late) developing stages of this technology. For instance, the first article listed below talks states how “Robotic surrogates that offer paralyzed people the freedom to explore their environment, manipulate objects or simply fetch things has been the holy grail of BCI [brain-computer interface] research for a long time.” This subject is naturally extremely controversial and whether we agree or disagree with this type of technological experiments I truly believe that we have a human obligation to educate ourselves and analyze the type of impacts it could have on humanity and the environment.


    This second article is an excellent example of society’s ignorance of the type of surrogacy technology that has been a common practice in several parts of the world. What I find very interesting is that I mentioned this article to several people (non-college students) from the community and they did not believe that there’s such a thing as a “surrogate mother”. Jayne Frankland has not only had FOUR surrogate pregnancies, she also runs a “enquiry line for Surrogacy in the UK”.


    • Alexander V Dang said

      I thought a bit about what you had to say here, particularly in regards to our current status of “surrogate” technology, and couldn’t help but think about the potential for human extension, or in particular, how this technology could be used to “fix” certain inequities our disabled are facing right now. In this article (http://www.medicaldaily.com/news/20101215/4622/robot-arm-improves-performance-of-brain-controlled-device.htm) from Medical Daily, the author discusses the advancement of mind-controlled robotic arms, and the recent development of sensory feed back. As this technology develops in the coming years, I can’t help but imagine the ways in which we’ll be able to augment and assist the handicapped — soldiers returning from duty missing entire limbs, soon to be replaced with superior limbs, or the super-rich who could be able to afford entire replacements as “cosmetic” surgeries. In this youtube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9Bjs99A0k0) we can already see the type of precision and accuracy that robotics can have, having the dexterity to master origami rather easily.

  9. Hayley Gordon said

    After the in class discussion of the subtly sophisticated use of music in Gamer and the song “Sweet Dreams” I examined other songs from the soundtrack. Not surprisingly, the rest of the soundtrack goes hand in hand with the marionette theme of the movie that also plays into the graphic novel Surrogates. Here are two scenes that use songs as witty reflections regarding “meat puppets.” The first song, “I’ve Got No String,” is from the movie Pinocchio. The second is a Frank Sinatra classic called “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” It’s appropriate these songs come from beloved pop culture icons since the theme of both Gamer and Surrogates reflect the perversion of present pop culture.

    I’ve Got No Strings

    There are undeniable parallels between the two stories of Pinocchio and Kable from gamer. Both are seeking to exercise autonomy over their bodies without some master puppeteer behind their every action and responsible for their fate. It also draws a stark contrast between the character of Pinocchio and the prisoners forced to participate in the game Slayers. Unlike Pinocchio, the players have tasted freedom before and have had it taken away—creating a much darker marionette story than Pinocchio. The song is also ironic because Kable and his fellow player are not free, and still remain attached by many strings.

    “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”

    This song’s seemingly innocent message about being in love is twisted into a real life scenario in which Kable has to deal with another person controlling him, under his skin. This songs also calls attention to the presentation and execution of its performance. Castle begins the number with deliberate marionette actions, reminding audiences what is really under the skin. Also, he is lip syncing the song. He’s deliberately putting the words of another into his mouth, teasing Kable who has unwillingly had another’s will forced upon his own. This concept is visualized in one of the movies promotional posters in the link below.


  10. Alexander Dang said

    Going through Surrogates, I couldn’t help but relate it to the social networking sites that have become so common in this particular generation, or more importantly, the place of “role playing” and surrogate life styles.

    In the comic, Harvey’s wife, Margaret, was fundamentally altered as an individual by her dependence on her Surrogate – on her fantasy – and the same thing is happening now, vis-a-vis SecondLife, World of Warcraft, and if you’ve seen the movie Catfish (it’s pretty decent, give it a look), then online profiles in dating and social websites.

    It’s a particularly interesting to consider how many lives revolve around fantastical constructions, but its even more so when considering how many might acknowledge the dependence and are accepting of it. Is “ignorance” (in this sense, of the reality of one’s life) truly bliss?

    • Victor Banuelos said

      I felt that connection too. I’m pretty big on gaming so I know that feeling you get from the escapism of an 80 hour virtual immersion experience. You tend to get lost in these worlds and I feel that having a virtual life linked to a person’s mind like a surrogate would really lead to people just dropping off the world. I like to think I game in moderation but there are people who spend every waking minute on some games to the point of obsession and its almost as if our dependency on technology has long since started. We build our Facebook pages to give the world a fabricated image of what we want to look like to them while we browse youtube videos for 12 hours a day. Its like in the beginning where both surrogates were false representations of their owners, just fabricated lives in a realm of anonymity. Our technology hasnt become so sophisticated yet but we’re reaching that uncanny valley pretty quick.

    • Bridget Cundelan said

      I was thinking along these lines too when we were discussing Surrogates. It actually reminded me of a lecture I had in Global Studies where we read an article, I think it was called “welcome to the desert of the real.” It was kind of disquieting and it talked about how we have become so reliant on technology that reality doesn’t really measure up. It gave an example of 9/11 and how when people saw it on TV they didn’t think it was real because they were so used to watching hyperreal movies of plane crashes and violence. Basically, technology has seriously desensitized us. It also theorized that the plane crashes of 9/11 played upon the expectations that technology builds in us, and that the terrorists used the media as a a kind of large video screen to project upon. (because they knew people would film it) All in all, while technology does benefit us in ways and does connect us via sites like facebook, it also seems to estrange us from each other and ourselves in a very real way. When we’d rather live through the filtered persona of a facebook profile, and when a terrorist attack does not effect us in as real of a way as a war movie, something very serious is wrong. The purpose of Surrogates is to desensitize a person, numb them so they can live without fear and without consequences. But what many people don’t realize is the Surrogate is not in science fiction novels or biotechnology, it is right in front of us on our computer screens.

  11. Dana Reinhart said

    As a comic book and graphic novel fan, I had a really good time reading Surrogates for class. It definitely made me think about different aspects of the work in greater detail. I really liked the visual style of the book, especially the almost rough-sketch sort of look combined with the pixelated quality of the the coloring. I thought it did a really good job of conveying emotion without getting bogged down in the minute details or excessive subtleties of shading. I also was fascinated by the decision to keep entire pages, and sometime even entire spreads, in the same general color scheme. For example, the fact that the entire last scene is done in blues and purples really helps emphasize the sadness of the scene. The dark, somber colors of Margaret’s death contrasted with the lightening greens, reds and yellows of the recovering world outside (previous page) also highlights Margaret’s emotional struggle, I think. While the world outside is moving on and learning to live without surrogates, Margaret is unable to cope with the new reality, and resorts to suicide to keep herself in the old world.

    All that being said, I was also sort of surprised by the decision to include the last few pages at all. Page 156 shows the world in recovery, people working together to rebuild a world free of surrogates. This to me is a hopeful panel, with a brightening sky displaying the possibility of a brighter future. Then pages 157 and 158 regress to darker,less colorful scenes of Margaret’s broken surrogate and her own lifeless body. Had the novel ended two pages earlier, the ending would have been “happy,” leaving an impression of a hopeful future. However, the real ending of Margaret’s suicide and Harvey’s dejected and sorrowful pose leaves a sort of bitter aftertaste, as if the elimination of the surrogates wasn’t really a good thing after all. Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but I feel that this depressing conclusion sort of takes away from the cautionary message of the book.

  12. Loryn Ferreira said

    Although I am not personally a fan of comic books or graphic novels, I did like the message that Surrogates was trying give its readers about “wiring in” to life. I also liked the connection it had to the movie Gamer where people could similarly live life through a form of virtual reality. What I really found so shocking about the surrogates and the virtual reality games was how we are already well on our way to relying on alternate forms of reality in order to live our lives. Need I say that addicting videogames like World of Warcraft, Sims, and other social “alternate living” games provide exactly that kind of fictional space. I’ve personally known people that got so addicted to games like these that they had to go to counseling in order to break their addiction to the realms of their game. And we all have heard the stories of couples even getting divorced over games of alternate reality. (For those who haven’t heard much about these cases, a link is below)


    I found it amusing when the cop’s wife became angry at her husband when he wanted to have dinner together as their “real” selves. It was humorously ironic because typically, or perhaps stereotypically, a woman would jump on the idea of being able to have a “real” sit down dinner with their husband, however in a world where the surrogates become the reality, it makes sense to say the real selves become the illusion.

    Right now, my housemate Travis is paying a new game that was recently released for PS3 called Dead Space. He has been playing it almost non-stop now for three days, only taking breaks to eat, sleep, and take finals. I decided to question him a little to get a real insiders opinion on why videogames are so addicting and if it is in anyway linked to the fact that it creates a second world. The conversation was short so I’ll quote it verbatim…

    (Lights are off, game sound effects are extremely loud, and Travis is maybe two feet away from the screen)

    Me: Whatcha up to?
    Travis: Playing my new game.
    Me: Why are the lights off?
    Travis: It makes it more real.
    Me: But its just a game. Why do you need it to be more real?
    Travis: I like to pretend I’m really the guy on the screen and that I’m really fighting scary space monsters ok?
    Me: Real life isn’t good enough for you?
    Travis: No. It isn’t.

    At that point I could tell he didn’t want to talk to me any more and left but I was amazed at how similar his case was to those who needed a surrogates to life the life they could never otherwise have. I don’t mean to put my good friend Travis on blast but he is nowhere near as strong, fit, and awesome as the guy in his game who was fighting off evil space monsters. Dead Space acts as a way for him to “wire into” another life when his isn’t good enough. I found this all very creepy and I just hope that today’s videogames don’t become tomorrow’s surrogates…

  13. Jennifer S. Lopez said

    After reading Robert Venditti’s The Surrogates and watching clips from the movie I was curious to watch more. There was one significant difference that I was surprised and intrigued to see, the death of corresponding human being to the fried Surrogate. The graphic novel allows the human to survive the electric current that destroys the surrogate component. The film however is not so merciful. Within the first few minutes we become aware of the potency of the weapon used by Lionel Canter to destroy the surrogates in both the comic and movie rendition. The graphic scene when detective Greer walks into the solemn apartment of Cameron MacAllistor (the novel’s Trudy) and finds the body still reclining at the control panel, but with blood streaming from the openings on his face is jarring. The difference is significant. Why would the directors choose to change such a drastic change? I pose this question openly.
    I can only conjecture that this was done for a more stirring emotional response from the audience. The graphic novel has more time to build and submerge the reader into the world of the dependent surrogate users,view the world through their plugged in perspectives. The destruction of the surrogate component is one that has drastic implications for the users, both emotional as in the case of Greer’s wife who takes her life at the thought of losing what had come to define her identity, fiscal and physical. By the end of the novel you can grasp the resounding consequences the loss of the surrogates will effect. The film however has to grip the audience more immediately, what better way to do that than to bring into the question the characters mortality, a feature that had otherwise been protected. There is an expectation on behalf of the audience to be stirred at the movies, and broken property, without the right perception, can be dull.

    A glimpse of the corpses still attached to their monitors can be seen at 1:02.

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