Cyberpunk got somehow stuck in mirror shades and virtual reality worlds, and then wandered off into the artistic fringe. The fact that the Internet has ‘High Streets’ now, mainstream thoroughfares, and has developed, let’s say, a virtual mall culture, does not mean that the punk ideology no longer has a home on the Net. The persistence of IRC, forums and torrent communities is proof of that. Using the most basic Internet modes of communication to maintain community, while innovating and manipulating its most advanced technologies is where the cyberpunk, so-called, spirit continues to express itself.
Between Anonymous and Wikileaks, I feel like we’re practically living in a cyberpunk story. We’re just the blissfully uninvolved citizens who don’t live in the seedy underbelly. Also, browsing pages on Tor and similar networks reminds me a lot of exploring the internet in the early ’90s. It’s messy, there are lots of abandoned, hastily put together pages. There are weird rants. I think the whole bitcoin thing is very cyberpunk-ish. A digital crypto-currency.
The problem with cyberpunk is that it’s no longer the future, it’s the present. Sometimes when I read the news I’ve got the idea we’re kind of living in a dystopian 90’s cyberpunk future… Cypherpunkish, more than Neuromancerish. Also, I know a guy who left the US in order to be able to keep gambling online, and a Google executive recently coordinated a peaceful revolution that toppled a 30-year-old dictatorship in Egypt, in 18 days. And there’s some debate as to whether or not Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium were stymied by a computer worm that destroyed its centrifuges or not, and the world’s biggest distributed computers are operated either by the Russian Mafia or by Google, depending on how you measure. I still see more Rainbows End than Neuromancer in today’s internet, but that’s hardly surprising; Vinge wrote it considerably later.
Cyberpunk (in written SF) died around the time “Vincent Omniaveritas” folded his zine Cheap Truth in 1986 (which you can find an archive of here: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~erich/cheaptruth/ ) … by 1992, when Bantam Spectra published Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” it had descended into self-parody (hint: a heroic central character called Hiro Protagonist? Try saying that aloud).
These days cyberpunk seems to be more about transhumanism and posthumanism ala Charles Stross books “Accellerando” & “Singularity Sky”. “Accelerando” was written circa 1998-2003, and “Singularity Sky” — not its original title, but one dropped on it by the publisher in search of teh sexxy — in 1996-98. If you’re pointing to them as signs of where SF is at, I’ll just get my coat — because SF is dead.
Transhumanism/posthumanism was big in the 1990s — Vernor Vinge coughed up the hairball that is the singularity in the mid-1980s and Hans Moravec of CMU popularized it and spread the fertile soil for the early 1990s transhumanists, who also hybridized with libertarians and cypherpunks by way of the extropians mailing list circa 1990-95. But again, by the time you get to the late 1990s folks like Ray Kurzweil were bandwagoning on it, and these days that, too, is ancient history.
Human-Computer interaction as envisioned is at its peak. Dare you tell me that Second Life, World of Warcraft, or Eve Online are not quite akin to the metaverse that was envisioned in Snowcrash. Tell me that those robotic prosthetic limbs are not close to what you see in Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita in the US). All those eyes, ears, and even memory prosthetic devices (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6574) seen in Ghost in the Shell and Johnny Mnemonic are not dreamt of anymore, they are very real and useful to many (although admittedly they did not reach such levels of advancement, but that’s a matter of time). Tell me those efforts to control and monitor everything including the internet “for the safety of everyone and his dog” are not dystopian in many ways, and get a look at how the third and fourth world are manipulating technology in ad-hoc, cheap, creative and dangerous ways to try and follow us in our first-world countries steps.
Augmented reality is an overlay onto what is truly there. Alternate reality or Virtual Reality is a simulation of an entirely new universe. And don’t forget collaboration over a distance. “telepresence”. It’s not just for games and fun. Given the advances in EEG and other brain scan techs, I believe direct neural interfaces aren’t that far away anymore. One step at a time, we’ll first have to get used to motion-based interfaces. Neural interfaces will probably be like moving a limb but not actually moving. With such interfaces, there is no reason anymore to restrict to planar screens. Everything can be 3D.
We are trying to find a new way to communicate but we are failing at it and becoming irrelevant.
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