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For the Rudy Rucker novel, see Wetware (novel)

The term wetware is used to describe the embodiment of the concepts of the physical construct known as the central nervous system (CNS) and the mental construct known as the human mind. It is a two-part abstraction drawn from the computer-related idea of hardware or software.

The first abstraction solely concerns the bioelectric and biochemical properties of the CNS, specifically the brain. If the impulses traveling the various neurons are analogized as software, then the physical neurons would be the hardware. The amalgamated interaction of the software and hardware is manifest through continuously changing physical connections, and chemical and electrical influences spreading across wide spectrums of supposedly unrelated areas. This interaction requires a new term that exceeds the definition of those individual terms.

The second abstraction is relegated to a higher conceptual level. If the human mind is analogized as software, then the first abstraction described above is the hardware. The process by which the mind and brain interact to produce the collection of experiences that we define as self-awareness is still seriously in question. Importantly, the intricate interaction between physical and mental realms is observable in many instances. The combination of these concepts are expressed in the term wetware.



An early reference to the term is in the novels of Rudy Rucker, one of which he titled "Wetware". "... all sparks and tastes and tangles, all its stimulus/response patterns – the whole biocybernetic software of mind." Rucker did not use the word to simply mean a brain, nor in the human-resources sense of employees. He used wetware to stand for the data found in any biological system, analogous perhaps to the firmware that is found in a ROM chip. In Rucker's sense, a seed, a plant graft, an embryo, or a biological virus are all wetware. DNA, the immune system, and the evolved neural architecture of the brain are further examples of wetware in this sense. Rucker describes his conception in a 1992 compendium "The Mondo 2000 User's Guide to the New Edge," which he quotes in a 2007 blog entry, "What is Wetware?"

Another common reference is the saying, "Wetware has 7 plus or minus 2 temporary registers." The numerical allusion is to a classic 1957 article by George A. Miller, "The magical number 7 plus or minus two: some limits in our capacity for processing information", published in Psychological Review in March 1956, volume 63, issue 2, pages 81-97.

One of the earliest uses of the term, pre-dating Rucker's novel "Wetware", is in the 1987 novel "Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick. Timothy Leary, in an appendix to Info-Psychology originally written in 1975-1976 and published in 1989, used the term "wetware", writing that "psychedelic neuro-transmitters were the hot new technology for booting-up the "wetware" of the brain."

Alternative Definitions

Technical Usage

International Standards have been drafted for telebiometrics that include "wetware" in their technical terminology. Wetware refers to "that aspect of any living system that can be treated as an information system."

Computer Jargon Usage

The term Wetware is used in conversation, notably USENET and in hacker culture. Also known as liveware, meatware or the abbreviation PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair), it is a term generally used to refer to a person operating a computer. It refers to human beings (programmers, operators, administrators) attached to a computer system. In this context the term is often intended for humorous effect; for example, in the frequently wry humor of technical support staff, a wetware-related problem is a euphemism for user error.

Scholarly Usage

Theorist Richard Doyle uses the plural, "wetwares", to describe the shifting experience and nature of embodiment in the context of proliferating information technologies.

Science Fiction Usage

An alternative meaning of Wetware, found in some contemporary science fiction novels such as Peter F. Hamilton's neural nanonics and wetware and Richard K. Morgan's wetwire, is the cybernetic augmentation of human beings. The general theory is that the brain would have a cybernetic interface to electronic components capable of controlling the body. Such cybernetic implants could control everything from muscle movement, making a person super-fast or super-strong (as in the case of Morgan's books), or to provide a direct connection to external computer processing through wetwired connections in the skin. There are examples of wetware devices in the novels of William Gibson, in which certain individuals use a computer called a "cyberspace deck" to jack on to a brain implant which provides them with sensorial connection to virtual cyberspace. Neal Stephenson uses the term in his 1995 novel, The Diamond Age, to describe the society of the drummers where nano-particles are exchanged through bodily fluids among individuals within the society for the task of parallel computing. Note, however, that one of the originators of the term, Rudy Rucker, does not use wetware in the sense of cybernetic enhancement. Throughout his Ware Tetralogy, "wetware" is used to stand for the underlying program of any biological system.

Adam Warren also uses the term in his American Manga comic series The Dirty Pair, whereby characters fitted with interface sockets in three locations on the neck can jack into computers, hardware, and simulation networks, two of which include Sim-Net and Yip-Man. The term "wetware" was also used in I, Robot (2004) during a dialogue between Detective Spooner (Will Smith) and Doctor Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), the latter of whom claims to "specialize in hardware-to-wetware interfaces in an effort to advance USR's robotic anthropomorphization program".

In the Firefly (TV series) episode "The Message," the term wetware is used to describe a series of experimental, highly advanced synthetic organs. These require a human host, such as the character Tracy, for transport. The illegal use of such people as carriers is referred to as "wetware smuggling."

In the Andromeda (TV series), Captain Dylan Hunt happens upon the ship's holographic AI arguing with Rommie, its android avatar. He comments that talking to yourself is a sign of insanity. They both immediately reply, "Only for wetware."

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Wetware". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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