chapter  9
17 Pages

A Feeling for the Cyborg: Kathleen Woodward

Consider the emotional rhetoric in which the American press cast the rematch between the Russian world chess champion Garry Kasparov and IBM's supercomputer, Deep Blue, in the spring of 1997. Stories proclaimed the seven-game series as the battle ofMan versus Machine, one that might represent humanity's last stand, a showdown in the time-honored tradition of the American West in the fight to the death for supremacy-this time not at the border of the American frontier but broadcast on the Internet around the globe. Even the preeminently reasonable New York Times editorialized on the contest, describing it as an "epic struggle," worrying about how we might define intelligence as a unique human trait and seeking to comfort those who were unnerved and despairing over the threat that Deep Blue represented. 1 Newsweek framed its cover story in terms of the urgency of closing ranks, exhorting its readers to choose up, posing a rhetorical question that had only one possible answer: "When Garry Kasparov takes on Deep Blue, he'll be fighting for all ofus. Whose side are you on?"2 Kasparov-and, by extension, humankind in general-was portrayed as in mortal danger of being humiliated. Technology in the guise of the supercomputer was depicted as potentially autonomous, with the rematch as possibly the final step in its "ineluctable march to surpass its makers" (51). All the familiar buttons were pushed to generate yet another version of America's favored technological fable-man versus machine or technology, our master or our slave.