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William Gibson Gives Up on the Future 352

Tinkle writes "Sci-fi novelist William Gibson has given up trying to predict the future — because he says it's become far too difficult. In an interview with, Gibson explains why his latest book is set in the recent past. 'We hit a point somewhere in the mid-18th century where we started doing what we think of technology today and it started changing things for us, changing society. Since World War II it's going literally exponential and what we are experiencing now is the real vertigo of that — we have no idea at all now where we are going." "Will global warming catch up with us? Is that irreparable? Will technological civilization collapse? There seems to be some possibility of that over the next 30 or 40 years or will we do some Verner Vinge singularity trick and suddenly become capable of everything and everything will be cool and the geek rapture will arrive? That's a possibility too.'"
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William Gibson Gives Up on the Future

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  • Re:always be a "???" (Score:3, Informative)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:16PM (#20134695) Homepage Journal
    This will be a while. A current generation processor can simulate in the range of 10 neurons with pretty good accuracy in real time.
    A human brain has ~100 billion neurons.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:34PM (#20134877) Journal

    Seriously. Were it not for willing suspension of disbelief, the entire genre of sci-fi would not even be viable. What's scientifically accurate about sci-fi universes like Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, B5, or even Eureka? Nothing. The point is, who cares? Sci-fi is about the story, not about the science.
    Those are all space operas [], which, depending on who you're talking to, are either a subgenre of sci-fi or not sci-fi at all. Gibson writes a lot of hard science fiction [], along with authors like David Brin, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, and (to an extent) Arthur C. Clarke. In hard sci-fi most of the emphasis is on the scientific details/accuracy, with the story often just being a path the author takes you through their scientifically rigorous vision.
  • Re:become? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:40PM (#20134951)
    As for his new book being set in the past, why does that seem to ring a bell? Anyone know of any other cyberpunk novelists that have gone that route?

    And Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is a monument to how much fun that can be. I mean, how many novels get to have a thorough explanation of the origin and evolution of international banking, swashbuckling scenes involving Barbary pirates, a wide range of um... occasionally unorthodox intimate antics, and a chase scene involving Our Hero barely escaping through the Mines Of This-Ain't-Your-Daddy's-Moria while being chased by wacked out Teutonic pagans stoked on psychedelic mushrooms, and ending up in a phospohorous-decorated scene right out of Scooby Doo, only involving a hot chick that's smarter than most of her fans, and who hangs out with world-changing philosophers and scientists while longing for the identity and demise of the slave-owning, rotten-fish-eating villain that stole her as a child and whose son she unknowingly marries as a facade behind which to extend her reach into the pockets and policies of European aristocracy? Did I mention Isaac Newton being brought back from the mostly dead? Sci-fi, schmi-fi!
  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @06:49PM (#20135743) Homepage
    I can't speak for everyone, but as I age, there's certainly more of a tendency to focus on history over the future. I still like sci-fi, but there is a growing trend to focus on character stories in sci-fi, which is, I think, indicative of the fact that much of the technological what-ifs have all been thoroughly hashed out and repeated ad nauseum.

    I think a few things happen as people get older (and I'm about 30 now, so take that for what it's worth): They've learned that the promise of a golden future is an empty promise, especially for people who grew up in the 70s and 80s. They realize that their parents were actual people who had babies, as opposed to mythical, ever-present beings. And, if they've had even the smallest taste of history, they realize that we're doing the same stupid things over and over, and the best chance of finding our way out is to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors, and figure out what we can do differently. In the US at least, history is typically taught as little more than a collection of meaningless dates; anything but interesting. When you start to dig down into who these people really were, what their lives were like, and what they accomplished, it becomes much more entertaining, interesting, and informative. For all of those reasons, history can be very appealing.

    Aside from that, much of science fiction borrows heavily from history, intentionally or otherwise. Clearly Firefly is the Wild West. Star Wars is the American Revolution with Taoist philosophy. The Matrix revisits the question of Plato's Cave. Contact also explores The Cave (what is real?) and Nietzsche's philosophy. BSG is not unlike the Biblical story of the Israelites, except with Cylons instead of Egyptians, and Roman Mythology instead of Judaism. And SG-1 is trite crap. (Sorry, just had to throw that in). Many of these works are valid and entertaining in their own right, but with the proper context they can be even more enjoyable.
  • by Propaganda13 ( 312548 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @07:15PM (#20136055)
    Science doesn't have to advance at a mind boggling rate. Collapse of civilization or strict government control can greatly hamper that rate or even reverse it. Colonizing a new planet can also be a setting where ultra advanced technology isn't used.
  • by HeroreV ( 869368 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:10PM (#20136571) Homepage

    I have read many old Stanislaw Lem novels and the complex emotions the robots display is impossible
    Why is that? Because robots don't have souls? Because we're special in some sort of magical way? I've never heard of any other reason why people believe such a thing.
  • by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:10PM (#20136581) Homepage Journal
    The Marx I read never advocated a revolution, resource distribution, or any of that other socialist stuff.

    Really? And which Marx did you read? Groucho?

    It's true that a key difference between Marx and Lenin was Lenin's insistence that a revolutionary vanguard could guide a country into socialism without a well developed capitalism - in fact Marx wrote in The German Ideology that an economy well developed enough that redistribution would not cause need as a prerequisite for socialism or "the same shit would just start all over again" (paraphrased).

    The difference being that Marx' believed that there were necessary prerequisites, and that revolution could not just happen at just any time and be successful.

    But to say that Marx never advocated revolution or resource distribution means you can't have read much of Marx' works.

    I quote, for example, from the Communist Manifesto, chapter 2:

    "The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat."

    "The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few."

    All of his adult life Marx' was actively involved in political movements agitating for revolution and redistribution of wealth. Large parts of his writings were intended as practical political work far more than any attempt at developing theory - The Communist Manifesto being the prime example, but also other text like Critique of the Gotha Programme.

    I do agree with you that there's a huge difference between Marx' careful analysis and Lenin who often took significant shortcuts in the interest of pushing forward whether or not it was the right thing to do, but that does not mean Marx' didn't want revolution. He wanted revolution at the right time, and even then because he saw it as inevitable rather than something to be desired - he expected that any attempt at peaceful transition of power when there was majority support for communist policies would still be attempted stopped by force.

  • by noewun ( 591275 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:42PM (#20137281) Journal

    Also, if you've ever visited Manhattan, you'd know that children there are a rarity

    Don't know where you were, If you look at the census data [] you will see that almost 20% of Manhattan's population is under the age of 18. All I know is that I can't walk down the sidewalk without dodging mom's and dad's and their damn strollers.

    And, don't worry: the end of the petroleum economy will radically change the American landscape. It's already happening in some areas. Atlanta, for instance, has seen big increase in people moving away from the 'burbs and into the city center to get away from long commutes and having to own a car.

  • Re:always be a "???" (Score:3, Informative)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:48PM (#20137341) Homepage Journal
    Could it be that intelligence is more or even something entirely different than any arrangement of matter and energy, could ever produce, no matter how many components are used and how complex their arrangement?

    There is no science that indicates that this is even slightly likely. We have every reason to think that the brain obeys the physics that everything else has turned out to obey, and no reason to think otherwise at this point in time.

    I'll consider your brain-as-uber-thang ideas when you get some evidence to support them. So far, everything points to electrical, chemical, physical architecture, and possibly quantum structures and activities as the brain's underlying base "technologies", as it were. So until or unless you can produce said evidence, you get to enjoy the status of "crackpot", pretty much right along the lines of astrologers, religionists, and crystal gazers. :-)

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