A look at Neuromancer

In 1863, Jules Verne embarked on a writing career that would span 60 novels, and spawned countless classics.   What is most memorable about the works of Verne, is that he managed to foresee some of the modern marvels that we now take for granted.  His prophetic works envisioned airplanes, glass skyscrapers, helicopters, trips to the moon, submarines, television, guided missiles, air conditioning, and motion pictures.  Few other authors have been able to match his almost miraculous ability to see into the future, and imagine the possibilities.

Twenty five years ago this week, William Gibson released the novel Neuromancer.  Credited with being the book that gave legitimacy to the genre “cyberpunk”, Gibson told a fantastical tale of a world of virtual reality, world wide communications via unheard of technology, and the use of the human mind as a catalyst for electronic functions. Neuromancer is actually the first installment in what is known as the Sprawl trilogy, and tells the story of a hacker (Case) who get busted (literally), and is rescued by those who have access to technology that enhance his abilities.  He then becomes wrapped up in a plot to carry out the ultimate hack in the service of a mysterious benefactor.


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As technology has rapidly advanced over the last few decades, people have started returning to Neuromancer, and realizing that many of the futuristic ideas explored by Gibson, have actually come to pass, or are in development as we speak.  It’s not just technology that Gibson foresaw.  He also predicted multi-national corporations acting as almost autonomous international entities.  He saw the rise of and controversy surrounding genetic engineering.  The novel has even been credited with inventing words that are now part of our mainstream, such as “cyberspace”.

In honor of the 25th Anniversary of Neuromancer, let’s take a closer look at the prophetic ideas it presented, and imagine what else the future has in store.

Cyberspace and the World Wide Web

Ten years before the web as we know it became reality, Neuromancer told of a world wide interconnection of computers and technology where information could be transmitted instantaneously.  At the time,  the concept was novel.  Now, we don’t think twice about it.

Taking the concept of the web into even more depth, Gibson spoke of “cyberspace”; which made the web a sensory tangible experience that individuals could literally “jack in” to, and inhabit virtually.   In order to “jack in” to cyberspace, users had to connect themselves via cables and electrodes to a “deck”.  This then connected them to cyberspace, which was so keenly tuned to the human experience that once inside you could experience intense bliss, as well as injury and death.

From Neuromancer:  “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

While this clearly has taken our concept of cyberspace to a whole new level, bibliography on world hunger points out that the idea of “jacking in” is not that far fetched.

Think that idea of “jacking in” is far-fetched? Check out this lesbian dating app nz from way back on March 14, 2002: “Researchers at Brown University have used a tiny array of electrodes to record, interpret, and reconstruct the brain activity that controls hand movement–and they have demonstrated that thoughts alone can move a cursor across a computer screen to hit a target.”


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Plastic Surgery

Neurmancer goes into deep detail about the strange medical procedures that people undergo to fix their bodies or change their looks.  At the time it was written, no one would have believed that a person could have their entire face transplanted.  Characters in the book however had face transplants regularly to preserve their anonymity.  And as most of us have heard, 2009 saw the first ever successful face transplant, which was heralded as a miracle of modern science.

Gibson also was ahead of his time in imagining the types of prosthetic limbs that are common place today.  I would suggest that we take a closer look at some of the other medical breakthroughs mentioned in his books… they may be right around the corner.

Derm

Such a simple concept, really.  An adhesive patch placed on the skin containing medicine or drugs that go straight into the bloodstream.  But I recall how amazed I was when I first heard about the idea of the nicotine patch.  I thought, well if you can do this with nicotine, why can’t you do it with other drugs.  We now see weight loss patches and birth control patches… and I’m sure many others to come.   But, Gibson saw it before any of us did.

ICE

ICE or “intrusion countermeasures electronics” was a deterrent to hackers in the novel.  Black ICE was the most dangerous kind,  because it could prove lethal to anyone trying to “break the ice”, or gain access to someone’s personal corner of cyberspace.

This term is used unofficially today when referencing things like the computer firewall.  The firewall is designed to prohibit unlawful or unknown outside sources from entering your computer and accessing your information.  Not exactly the same thing, but the concepts are similar.


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As technology continues to develop, and humankind becomes more and more dependent on the need and desire to stay connected, it seems that William Gibson’s Neuromancer was well ahead of the game.  With the advent and implementation of more and more ways to link individuals to the rest of the world, I think it would be wise to keep our minds on what Gibson’s groundbreaking novel foretold.  Let us not forget, he also saw artificial intelligence gone bad…very bad, as well as Simitism, in which one human being can relay thought and ideas directly into another human’s brain.  In one of the most fascinating concepts presented in Neuromancer, intelligence and memories… basically individual consciousness, can be downloaded or dumped from a person’s brain directly into a computer, which then allows someone who has died to live on and communicate with the living.  COOL!

Other authors have had incredible insights into what is now our reality or foreseeable future.  George Orwell predicted the rise of the Big Brother culture we are steadily progressing toward with unending war designed to keep people in fear, cameras on every street corner, thought police (an “almost” reality), and increasing government control over our every day lives.  Aldous Huxley predicted a “Brave New World” where people were medicated in order to be controlled.  But it is Gibson’s work that must be seen as the most influential and prophetic insight into technology that has and might still come to be.

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