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Reading Notes: William Gibson's Agency

Posted on the 30 January 2020 by Cathy Leaves @cathyleaves

Less than thirty pages into William Gibson’s novel Agency, the second part of his Jackpot-trilogy which started with The Peripheral, and I’ve underlined so many paragraphs, and looked up so many references that he made. I’m deeply fascinated with Eunice, the product of a highly deniable and discontinued defence contract that is now being re-purposed by agents of the post-Jackpot world to save this particular “stub” (a 2017 in which an intervention by a sadistic time traveler of sorts who intervenes to create the most possible chaos and destruction, in which the Presidential Election and the Brexit vote both had different results). She is an AI that can access all kinds of information without really knowing how she does it, guiding her “interface”, Verity, towards a purpose (a prevention of nuclear annihilation, as it turns out).
It’s also a perfect reminder of how accelerated our technological progress has been, between the specific-device bound locative art of Pattern Recognition, the emergence of the iPhone to view augmented reality, to the idea that something that on the surface sounds and looks like a virtual assistant (Eunice) is developing a personality, and finds ways to express its own intentions, against its original creators ideas (where I’m at in the book, it’s not clear yet if she is following the intentions of Ash, Lowbeer and Wilf Netherton in post-Jackpot London or is simply freed from any kind of outside influence, apart from an affinity for Verity).
What I am noticing now more than ever before in any of Gibson’s previous novels is his fascination with minute detail, which is the exact reason why I have had to look up so many things: his love for materials (especially where those materials are man-made, always questioning where they came from, which is usually an intersection of pop culture and military research), his fascination with this idea of authenticity, but also of manufacturing authenticity (much like Cayce’s now famous Buzz Rickson’s, which was always a perfected fake of an original idea of something), or of what kind of manufactured authenticity merits that name (in the Netherton post-jackpot future in which everything from the past can be perfectly replicated, Netherton's partner prefers the idea of potentially less-than-perfect man-made fakes over replicated ones).
.and a maybe not entirely connected side-thought that just occurred to me out of nowhere, that AI’s wouldn’t need to measure anything necessarily, because just based on the fact that we mass-manufacture most things, and mass-manufacture of objects depends on precise specifications for a lot of reasons, they would only need to access those specifications, which should be readily available (like Eunice, organising the exchange of the stacks of money for a uniform Pelican-case, Pelican being precisely the kind of thing that Gibson would be fascinated with). The only things that aren’t made to specification are natural ones, and even those can be genetically engineered to meet certain size- and weight-guidelines to make standardised packaging and shipping easier. The sole thing that wouldn’t match all of that would be artisanry, which is interesting, considering how popular it has become.
Intermediary notes: 
  • Agency, not The Agency, to refer to the freedom of action that money would afford Verity and Eunice, but obviously also the question of agency of Eunice herself
  • Gibson not telling us explicitly the name of the female president that was voted in in this alternate timeline is hilarious, we know who it is. 
  • Things googled so far: Tillandsia, laminae, Tyvek, Qamishli, Tuuk International Airport, 

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