You Are My Territory
Here is an extract from the text, which was originally performed at Bloomsbury Theatre as part of Knowledge Lab:
We are dancing with this technology. I glide along your digital depths. You are mercurial no blood or other matter can stop me. We are involved like never before.
The software takes me to the inside of the inside, opening up views that have never been seen before by human eyes. There is a whole universe inside of you. Comets fly right by me. I join an asteroid belt travelling across deep time, and land on a piece of interstellar rock to explore ravines and dark caves.
The history of medicine has been leading up to this moment of vision, and has already overtaken it. I am close to my own origins, the child returning to her mother. Yet I have never felt so alone.
Our images are analysed in darkened rooms. Though we never meet them, radiologists are our interpreters, turning our images into diagnoses.
I spend a day observing a breast clinic. Seeing the radiologist examine the images reminds me of watching a botanist look through a microscope to classify specimens.
As he speaks his diagnosis, it is transcribed instantly into documents via voice recognition software:
Some weeks later I read an entire 4000-word radiology glossary to my laptop:
Acetabulum A sexy bottom
Achalasia Actually easier
Acute A cute neck tall
Ampulla of water And cooler in water
Atelectasis Eight lax cases
Azygos lobe I Gough hello
Bougienage Bluesy launch
Brachiocephaltic trunk Brachiocephaltic trunk
Bregma Break ma
Budd Chiara Syndrome Barred Key Syndrome
Calcar avis Call car Avis
Canal of schlemm Can now of slam
Cardiac tamponade Cardiac tampon A
Chemical fog Chemical fog
Cholangiography Holy Lands geography
Controlled area Controlled area
The most spectacular and colourful of all medicine’s images are the neuro-images. I can’t find any reference that establishes the authority of their reds and yellows, the veracity of their blues and greens. Yet we revere these images as if they have been generated by the brain itself, and can reveal deep truths about ourselves. I am thankful that neuro-imaging is improving lives – for people with MS,epilepsy and Parkinsons and stroke patients. But I worry that it wants our thoughts, and dreams and memories too.
If I think of a lion – among a range of given objects – a computer can learn to use my brain signals to reconstruct that image of the lion. But what if I think about global warming, or my elderly neighbour, or the way light falls on a leaf?
There is talk of the body becoming transparent, of technologies making us fully visible. Where are the narratives of obscurity?
According to Massachusettes Institute of Technology medical images are a near perfect match for machine learning. Imagine. The internal body is an ideal training ground for the computer gaze, our insides a new digital sublime. The true body is that which is calculable.
The medical body is rich for extraction. Algorithms are in training. Neural networks are churning over our numbers. If you’ve had a scan recently your images will almost certainly be made available for research, each one of us part of a larger optimization problem.
But listen to this. We can’t always understand what the machines are learning. There are too many dimensions. It’s a black box.
Is my future inside of me? I find that for £2000 I can buy a full body scan, which is marketed a bit like an MOT. The scan promises to pick up my problems before they become symptoms, to anticipate illness from the inside. Total exposure in exchange for a new kind of self-knowledge.
These moves to interiority would have us believe our body is only inside of us. As if I am here and you are there and the only thing between us is distance.Back to gallery