If you treat “Ghost in the Shell” as a tribute to the original manga franchise, digestible and compatible advertisement for the cyberpunk concept, you can swallow all simplifications and faults and just embrace idea of putting it on a big screen. Fans will be disappointed or even angry but not because movie is shit (even if it is) but because of their expectations. It’s like expecting peace in the world or intelligence to have the highest value – this is not how marketing works (and definitely not how the world works). It’s a product to be sold to the wide, international audience, just like penicillin, not philosophical treatise about possible implications of AI and cybernetics to a society of the future (which the original manga almost is).
It doesn’t mean you should watch spectacle of butchering classics and great ideas with a poker face but if you expect honesty from politicians and education from money-making conveyor belt of entertainment you will be disappointed forever.
Imagine that we could actually transfer our brain to a mechanical body. This would be another great leap in evolution – first we changed our environment, now we can change ourselves and become super-human. No more cancer (most diseases would actually disappear) and physical constrains like aging and need to exercise to keep your muscle functioning. Now imagine that you could transfer your personality and “soul” to a digital realm like in “Transcendence” – you could live forever (or as long as you can be “uploaded” and “accessed”)! Preserve yourself in million copies just like software that can be installed on any device – idea explored beautifully by Richard Morgan in “Altered Carbon” and later books. Dream of Spiritualism and Manicheism would finally come true – soul wouldn’t have to manifest itself in a primitive physical form. We would be a pure energy. We would outsmart space-time continuum and Schrödinger’s quantum conundrum and be beyond and everywhere at the same time.
But without going too far: how would even slightest bionic enhancement change human live? Well, it is already changing it… Prosthetic legs, organ implants and exoskeletons are not sci-fi anymore. We are not only becoming less natural (human?) in biological sense but also less real in physical. Cyber space is taking over, VR is still in its infancy but we can already see its luring potential. Somehow by giving up physical dimension we’re also loosing metaphysical it seems. Intelligence and soul, these notoriously elusive entities are somehow connected to our bodies, our shells just like energy is interchangeable with matter and live with death so humans seem to be more withdrawn than ever, knowing so much more but understanding so much less like Einstein used to say. Intelligence doesn’t seem to be taking over. Its rather fading away with reality, becomes a hobby or rare commodity which you can share sometimes for fun. Live became so easy, comfortable and taken for granted in “developed societies” that brain is almost obsolete, flowing in limitless sea of stimulants and information it can’t filter or process. Live is so ready-made and given on a plate that people can’t challenge their natural laziness so they become puppets of artificial needs and desires, cattle following system or ghosts.
Maybe it is natural step in evolution that biological life creates mechanical live which then takes over? Maybe human consciousness was just a biological experiment, tool necessary to design beings transcending limits of chemistry and biology? What a twisted revenge of natural selection! The most advanced, arrogant and evil beings in the history of planet being only oblivious executors of a grand scheme, purged and replaced by their own creation. SkyNet or Matrix in a full swing.
Questions raised by “Ghost in the Shell” (and many other sci-fi animations like “Vexille”, “Akira” “Appleseed” or classics like “Blade Runner”) are not only where do androids/cyborgs belong in ethical and moral sense and how do they fit into society but also what happens to human beings once they discover their imperfections and limits. Same concept richly exploited by Vampire movies and fantasy – how would we justify our position in a pecking order when compared to more “evolved” species? Would it take us to the next level of humankind, beyond naive believe in our “special place in the Tree of Life” or will technology crush us, push us back to Paleocene like in more apocalyptic visions of G.H. Wells? Maybe by looking at stars and exoplanets we’re just trying to escape fear of being expendable and temporary visitors in this world?