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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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  • Well, crap! (Score:5, Funny)

    by monkeyboythom ( 796957 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:50PM (#20134373)

    there goes my investments in learning Chinese, buying slums in Tokyo and building a crappy AI called Wintermute.

  • There's two things I'd like to mention after reading this interview. First, let's give the original credit of a technology explosion or singularity to I. J. Good [] and his quote:

    Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an 'intelligence explosion,' and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.
    I think that predates Verner Vinge but he certainly never built it into a story like Vinge.

    Second, I would like to point out that every non-fiction book or movie I have read requires some degree of suspension of disbelief. Whether I'm watching Remains of the Day or Demolition Man, I need to look past illogical or non-scientific aspects of the movies. Does this detract from the story? Some would say yes, I would say only a little bit. I am very forgiving in literature. I have read many old Stanislaw Lem novels and the complex emotions the robots display is impossible--the physics of the robots are even more impossible. But Lem's stories are still great, given I can get past a robot with no energy input survives millions of years in space.

    So although I have not read William Gibson's works, I ask him not to give up on writing. You will have another good idea and you will write another book about it. Just wait for it to come.

    As for this idea of technology actually achieving this event horizon described by Good or Gibson or Vinge, I don't think that it's achievable. I can't prove it won't happen just like you can't prove it will happen. All I will say is that I don't even know where to begin. I would start with digesting the world wide web & developing a logic and reasoning engine to decide which statements are true and which are fact and which are neither. When it would be done, it may be 'more intelligent' than I but not 'more intelligent' than the sum of all human knowledge.

    I think there will always be a "???" in the game plan to make an artificially intelligent robot that functions intelligently on a human level or higher. I just don't see a way around it. That doesn't mean we should ever stop writing about it though.

    Sci-fi is fun, not something that is completely scientifically accurate--it just is a lot more fun when you explore the gray areas we don't understand or theorize about. Enjoy it while you can!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      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.
      • 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.
        • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:44PM (#20134993) Homepage
          In that case, it could be said that hard science fiction has become almost impossible. Conjectures about future technologies are as hard as WG says, and any given writer is going to have to face the likelihood that their conjectures get shown as flawed very quickly. Scientific accuracy is hard enough for scientists now: a physicist will probably not have the ability to recognize biological impossibilities; a geneticist will botch sociology and economics. Yet a comprlling story will have value even if the science is flawed.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            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 Jeremy_Bee ( 1064620 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:53PM (#20136889)

            In that case, it could be said that hard science fiction has become almost impossible. Conjectures about future technologies are as hard as (William Gibson) says, and any given writer is going to have to face the likelihood that their conjectures get shown as flawed very quickly.
            No offense but this sounds like nonsense to me.

            Science fiction is no more impossible by these standards than it ever was. If you read sci-fi from the 50's and 60's they got some of it right and huge amounts of it completely wrong. I would venture to guess that science fiction today will have about the same ratio of accuracy some 50 or 60 years hence.

            Also, despite his fame and fortune, William Gibson is one of the last person to be talking about predicting the future. Anyone really familiar with science fiction and Gibson's novels can tell you that other than a few buzzwords and the general tone of his one and only original novel, nothing Gibson has written about has actually come true. The metaphorical "cyberspace" (there's the buzz-word [smirk]), in his first novel if not really anything like what actually became cyberspace except in very general, symbolic outlines. And all of his further novels are just regurgitations of the same stuff.

            "Real" science fiction, (the original science fiction), is about science and the future in a concrete sense and it's based in social and historical themes. The idea is to base a story in a "real" or possible future society. The "other" kind of sci-fi, the stuff that has been popular since about 1980 or so and has become mainstream in our culture, has nothing to do with the future or with science. Despite the trappings of ray-guns and spaceships for instance, Star Wars is essentially a medieval drama about empire and heroic rebellion. Same goes for the vast majority of TV sci-fi.

            These are not science fiction stories, they are War stories (now called "action" movies), romantic dramas, and sitcoms that just happen to take place in some cheesy spaceship. Gibson actually wrote some real science fiction with that first book, but it's been severely overplayed and overexposed.

            He has been trading on it's success ever since IMO.
            • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:21PM (#20137091) Homepage Journal

              The premise here is wrong. Hard SF is not limited to technology that *will* come, it is about technology that *could* come because the science, at the time is is written (and that is a very important issue) is plausible as far as is known. It has nothing to do with the ideas "coming true", though that's not to say they could not.

              Suspension of disbelief is easier in stories written this way; and contrary to the above assertion, in good hard SF, the technology doesn't serve the role of the main story, carrying the characters as an incidental; the technology can almost fade away, leaving the story to be the main theme because the technology isn't so crazy.

              Can there be good, accurate ideas in hard SF? Sure. We have seen them over and over. Frederick Pohl predicted today's convergence of cell phone, PDA, browser and so on with a great deal of accuracy in "The Age of the Pussyfoot." Niven and Pournelle did a great "asteroid hits earth" novel; Gibson himself did some very intriguing speculation along the lines of interfaces, scientifically plausible but requiring considerably more horsepower than was available at the time of his writing (but not now.) Gregory Benford, James P Hogan, Asimov, Blish, Clarke, and a host of others have all dipped their hand into the "hard" SF bowl and pulled out shining fruits no one had ever thought of before, all while writing great, engaging stories about a huge variety of things.

              I read both types with equal, but different, pleasure. I enjoy the flight of fancy that comes with the idea of FTL drive; I also enjoy the tweak I get from a lesser technology that I actually might live to see if things go that way. But if the story doesn't bring interesting plot lines, significant character development, thought-provoking social comment, reasons for the major technological developments being posited... odds are I'll put it down and never pick it up again.

              The idea that an SF story would be devalued if the predicted technology didn't materialize or if later science narrows the hard SF window such that it could not materialize is ludicrous; on the contrary, an honest window into what people really thought was possible at any point in time has its own magnificent charm.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by awol ( 98751 )
                And then there is the other type of SF where the author doesn't focus on the technology but rather the Society that develops in the future. Specifically stories like Dune where the genius (or luck) of the author is to not worry about describing the technology and focus on the way the politics will develop in the far (in human terms) future. In this way the disbelief is much more easily suspended since the author does not have to describe too much of the detail of the science. Particularly when so much of th
        • by Txiasaeia ( 581598 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @07:16PM (#20136071)
          Disclaimer: I'm Gibson's #1 raving fanboy.

          What Gibson writes isn't hard sf by any stretch of the imagination. Neuromancer, as I'm sure most of the /. audience is aware, was written by Gibson when he had very little, if any, knowledge of how computers work. Bundles of fiber-optic lines as thick as a horse's tail, for instance. Second, technology isn't the point in most of his stories. In Neuromancer, we have one superhuman entity attempting to merge with another one. Do we have intricate passages in which the technology of this is discussed? Nope. The AIs in Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, I'd argue, are closer to traditional definitions of gods than pieces of technology. Look at what we know about the Aleph in MLO: it's a mother-huge slab of nanotech, infinite storage space, and can somehow connect Earth with Alpha Centauri. We're definitely lacking some technical details here. I'm a bit fuzzier on the Bridge technology, but certainly Pattern Recognition isn't sf at all, given that it took place in the recent past at the time of its publication.

          Rather than hard sf, let's call Gibson's early writings what they are: cyberpunk, stories about high technology, low lifes, and their interactions in a social millieu. The emphasis isn't technology at all, but social change. I mean, look at the importance of megacorporations and zaibatsus in Gibson's writings, something that's not characteristic of Vinge or Kim Stanley Robinson (who'd I argue is more of a hard sf writer than Charles Stross). Look at Case's first reaction when he is able to punch deck again: there's no technical details for what's been repaired in his brain, but the description of an ecstatic (in the strictest definition of the word) experience. Even the development of the relationship between humanity and AIs over the course of the first trilogy overshadows the technology that drives AIs. There aren't any scientific details and there's no attempt to reconcile science with plot in Gibson's writings. This isn't a bad thing.

          To quickly wrap it up, I've always believed that cyberpunk, with its emphasis on heroes, higher [technological] beings, and grand conflicts that change the course of society are new myths for a technological society. Look at Greg Bear's "Petra," Stephenson's _Snow Crash_, Cadigan's _Mindplayers_... the emphasis on the religious/spiritual/pseudo-religious/spiritual is seemingly more important than the technology that drives each of these works. I'm very sad that Gibson is moving away from this, but given Pattern Recognition, he's moving towards an exploration of mass media and society, which is also very fascinating. (And what's this about space operas not being considered sf? Who would say this?)

      • Were it not for willing suspension of disbelief, the entire genre of fiction would not even be viable.

        Fixed that for you. Suspension of disbelief is just as much a requirement for other fiction subgenres as it is for SF, in greater or lesser amounts. In some ways I think 'hard' SF requires less than other types of fiction, because it gives you plausible arguments for setting aside your disbelief.

        But were it not for people's willingness to set aside their disbelief in order to be entertained, we wouldn't ha
    • I think for Gibson-as-sci-fi-writer the ability to concretely visualize emergent trends is critical for him to be able to write about them...If he's sitting down in front of the keyboard and thinking, "Welll crap, from where we're standing, we could go anywhere" that's not really going to allow him to really develop details and a distinct feel.

      That being said, I read Pattern Recognition (his last novel) and it was an excellent book, even though it wasn't very futuristic at all. I think he's selling himself
    • always be a "???" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wurp ( 51446 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:07PM (#20134583) Homepage
      1. Use a combination of surgical examination, dissection of dead tissue, and MRI and other dynamic techniques to produce a model of the physics of a human brain
      2. Wait until Moore's law puts a computer within your price range that is capable of running that model at faster than 1 model second per real second
      3. Implement it

      You now have a machine that is slightly more intelligent than a human. Add in the fact that you can fully oxygenate all tissues, remove waste products, control neurochemicals, and dissipate (virtual) heat with no regard for physical laws, and I'd say it's quite a bit beyond human intelligence.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Surt ( 22457 )
        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.

        • So, taking your 10 and applying Moore's law we should have in it about 11 years.

          It sure does not seem that far off.
        • by wurp ( 51446 )
          Wow, I would love to see a reference on that. You're saying that it takes *800 million* cpu cycles to simulate one second worth of one neuron's activities? (Assuming a dual core 4 ghz processor).

          Of course, if Moore's law holds...
          a factor of 10 billion takes about (lemme see, 10^10 =~ 2^33, implies 33 * 1.5 years) 50 years. Yeah, that's a while, but not outside our lifetime, to get a household computer with the processing power of the human brain.

          The references I've seen state that the power for the human
          • Re:always be a "???" (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @06:08PM (#20135241) Homepage Journal
            My estimate is based on direct experience using Neuron:

            And attempting to model everything we know about the chemical processes. That said, there are 2 dimensions of performance issues:

            1) Neuron is not as fast as it could be, because a lot of the work being done is at an interpretive level.
            2) It's likely we don't know all we need to about the chemistry.

            I assume those 2 issues are roughly a draw, and that in order to eventually simulate a human brain, there will be improvements in the simulator software eventually, but those will trade off against the necessity of more detailed simulations.

            In any case, 50 years for the computer power to simulate a human brain is a decent bet.
    • by scribblej ( 195445 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:12PM (#20134627)
      Your post was thoughtful and well-written, as well as insightful. I'm almost embarassed to be replying with humor.

      So although I have not read William Gibson's works, I ask him not to give up on writing. You will have another good idea and you will write another book about it. Just wait for it to come.

      I'd like to suggest that if you HAD read his books, you'd ask him to please put down the pen and do something else.

      He had one great idea, and when he was younger, his writing style was beautiful and articulate, like some crazy poetry. But as time has worn on, he has moved further from brilliant concepts and fantastic conceptualizations, and closer to being "just another sci-fi author."

      Neuromancer was an excellent read. The stories in Burning Chrome, genius. I'd even give im points on Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

      After that, he went to crap. I still give him credit for being a brilliant man, a good writer, whom a lot of people enjoy. But I don't think that anyone, even his current fans, would argue that after his first set of books, "something changed."

      • I'd like to suggest that if you HAD read his books, you'd ask him to please put down the pen and do something else.
        I'm sorry, I can't ask anyone to stop writing a book. I can ask people to stop acting or directing movies but for some reason another book on earth can only be good.

        I don't know why. I think it's because the millions paid to make Kangaroo Jack could feed an entire African nation for quite some time. And that writing a book usually costs a person just enough to live and get by while it's in the process. I see books as more of a pure form of free speech also and I never want to see a book censored or banned regardless of its content. Purist, idealist view I know but if I had a religion it would be centered around that.

        Maybe it's because the world wanted James Joyce to stop writing. Maybe it's because the world wanted Anthony Burgess to stop writing. If they had succeeded, we wouldn't have Ulysses or A Clockwork Orange. Two monumental masterpieces in my mind.

        Don't ask him to stop writing, I'm sure someone somewhere still enjoys the works, you don't have to keep reading them. I no longer read Crichton or Stephen King even though I read everything by them in eighth grade. Is it because I've grown up or they've changed? I cannot say but I still hope they author novels until their dying day so that others may enjoy them.

        What does a bad book by an author you once loved hurt you? Let them publish, read the reviews and pick carefully. I think that deep down inside you'd still read them and get some enjoyment even if it's just discussing them with your friends.
      • by Shky ( 703024 )
        I really couldn't possibly disagree more. Neuromancer was very well written, but utterly short-sighted (as all futurism is. Like Cory Doctorow said, futurists only create the present, just more of it). The world he created felt fake, plastic, and surreal. His Bridge trilogy, though, is where he hit his stride. Sure, the nano-tech stuff is pointless (again, futurism), but his ability to accurately create and represent subcultures is incredible here. Plus, his idea that culture revolves around nodal points h
        • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @07:15PM (#20136053)
          Neuromancer was very well written, but utterly short-sighted (as all futurism is. Like Cory Doctorow said, futurists only create the present, just more of it). The world he created felt fake, plastic, and surreal.

          Neuromancer is absolutely brilliant for what it is -- a dystopian critique of everything that was frightening about the 80's for those who had been adults in the 70's: Corporate mega-mergers; the captivating, numbing, spellbinding nature of television, the "Me generation," the dissolving bond of loyalty between company and employee, the increasing disregard of companies for the lives of citizens, drug use going from drugs for relaxation and communion to those for stimulation and frenzy, weakening government at the same time corporate power began to transcend borders, Japanese dominance of the markets, the transition away from natural folk music to synthetic and hard music, edgier and more aggressive fashion, body modification, alienation and the increasing fraying of social bonds, market booms and busts, the obsolescence of the average worker, etc., etc.

          You're right that "futurists only create the present, just more of it," but if you think that the world of Neuromancer was "fake, plastic, and surreal," then that's there's nothing wrong with that. That's what it was supposed to be!

          Early cyberpunk is nothing but the nightmare shadow the 1980s, and "fake, plastic, and surreal" was the dominant feeling of that era for a lot of people.
      • Drugs? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PhoenixOne ( 674466 )

        Having heard Gibson talk about his past, I get the feeling that the reason his writing style changed so much since Neuromancer is because his life got better. It's harder to write about how completely shitty the world is when you can't truly believe it.

        While I miss reading the old Gibson, I wouldn't want him to go back to that place.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LS ( 57954 )

        He probably stopped taking drugs. No, I'm not joking...

    • by puto ( 533470 ) *
      You make valid points but you really should read Gibsons works and read about the man. Gibson is anti technology, always has been. I think his first books were written on a typewriter. And with very little technical knowledge his gaze into the future of technology and how it plays out within the human element is truly amazing.

      Gibson's books are all about the grey areas. You should check out the short story the New Rose Hotel, even a pretty decent movie adaptation.

      His earlier works focused on AI, and hum
      • by nuzak ( 959558 )
        > You should check out the short story the New Rose Hotel, even a pretty decent movie adaptation.

        God, I hope it's better than what they did to Johnny Mnemonic ... though to be fair, I wasn't that fond of the story eityher. I mentioned "Hinterlands" as an illustrative example of Gibson's writing style, but I should have pointed at "New Rose Hotel" and now that I think of it, "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" (I always get them confused due to them sharing a word). Seriously, folks, go grab Burning Chrome.
    • It is possible that ultra intelligent is impossible if you mean "smart".

      A machine might be able to consider more information than humans in making a decision.

      We need to understand genius's before we could make a smart machine tho.

      And real genius's are random in nature and typically unique.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bobetov ( 448774 )
      In regards to your skepticism regarding the singularity, I'd like to point out that it doesn't require super-smart machines to happen.

      The requirement for the singularity is simply that we reach a point where we can achieve, in some manner, an intelligence of 1.01 times the human norm, and that that intelligence can repeat the trick. Certainly, machine intelligences should allow this, but it is also possible we will devise ways to improve our own mental functioning, or a way to aggregate normal human intell
    • by juuri ( 7678 )
      Actually I think if you follow the logic course of our current evolution as well as observing network theories, a singularity type event is all but assured. Consider that within the next 10-15 years everyone in a first world country will have a decent network connection on their person at all times. The sharing of human experience is set to rise exponentially with just that small leap. What will the world be like when *everyone* is networked? What comes next? What happens when we no longer need to use our f
    • Of course, the border is fuzzy, but in general one could say that a work gets further apart from SF and deeper into the fantasy field when the impossibilities start piling up. A good SF story may depend on one "fact" that's considered impossible in the current scientific knowledge, for instance it may be about time travel or faster than light travel, but when the author starts depending too much on magic it becomes fantasy.

      About the singularity, my opinion is: who knows? It seems more or less like life afte

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HeroreV ( 869368 )

      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 nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:53PM (#20134405) Homepage Journal
    So what its hard, and you might get it wrong? That doesnt mean it cant be entertaining reading and thought provoking.

    History class is for the lazy writer since there is little to 'invent'. Sure, history is really interesting and educational, but not in the same way as scifi is entertaining and thought provoking.

    And if his 'history works' turn out anything like the "difference engine" was ( it was set in the past remember ), then his career is over as a writer im afraid.
    • Neuromancer was damned fun to read, even if large parts of it seem completely unrealistic now or in the future.

      For that matter, "Journy to the center of the earth" (Jules Verne) was actually an interesting book, even if we're all pretty confident now that it's completely impossible.

      So I can understand giving up on actually trying to predict the future. But go ahead and speculate. Have fun!
    • 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.
  • The shortest route to the truth. Which is more likely, sudden Godlike sentience, or failure and degeneration into a has-been? It may be that life was never meant to get smarter than apes are, and humans were an anomaly...
  • become? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:56PM (#20134453)
    It's become too difficult? I think it's always been difficult and he's just now beginning to realize how far off the mark his books have been. Don't get me wrong, I love his stuff and will continue to read his books, but saying it's become too difficult is just silly. 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 before anyone points out that he's done that in the past, yes, I've read The Difference Engine.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ScentCone ( 795499 )
      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 t
    • I dunno, maybe it's just something that happens to you when you get older. You stop being quite so fascinated with gizmos and widgetry and start becoming interested in the "technology" of social interactions and human nature -- and that leads you straight to history and historical fiction.

      I mean, the same transition happened to me. In my 20s and early 30s I read gobs of sf and other kinds of speculative stuff. Now (early 40s) I tend to be a much more interested in history and social psychology. Not sure
  • by Solokron ( 198043 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:58PM (#20134477) Homepage
    Slashdot: News for nerds, behold the geek rapture.

  • by palladiate ( 1018086 ) <palladiate@EEEgm ... inus threevowels> on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:58PM (#20134483)

    Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.
    He's as wrong about this as he was his "cyberspace." It will obviously be followed by the invention of something to shut down an army of robots controlled by the world's first ultraintelligent machine. I know I'm killing a sacred cow here, but were any of his predictions all that accurate? I'm not trolling, but after recommending Neuromancer to my far more literate wife and suffering major embarrasment that she called it "the worst kind of pseudo-intellectual garbage," I had to re-read it. All I can say is that it's a good book to read in middle school 20 years ago. It doesn't hold up very well.
    • He was dead-on about the death of CD-Roms as a media platform (this was back '94 or so... maybe Mona Lisa Overdrive.)

      Haven't read Gibson this century, however.

    • Quite a few, actually. While his version of cyberspace wasn't accurate (well, not yet at least), many of the little things in Neuromancer and his follow-up books (Count Zero, Monalisa Overdrive) that at the time seemed quite far out have come to see the light of day in current times. Remember when reading it that it was written in 1984.
    • by mihalis ( 28146 )
      Oh come on! Even if you don't like Neuromancer, finding worse pseudo-intellectual garbage is not at all hard, so how can it be the "worst sort"?
    • by dave562 ( 969951 )
      I had to re-read it. All I can say is that it's a good book to read in middle school 20 years ago. It doesn't hold up very well.

      I completely agree. When I was in school I thought that he was a great writer and that his books were excellent. They were great books, but having read them again recently the prose and syntatic structure doesn't seem as great as it did when I first read it. None the less, I still think he has a great way with words. The opening line from Neuromancer will always be in my mind

    • by nuzak ( 959558 )
      Cyberpunk may be dead, but it made for such nice RPG's. Gibson's Matrix was far more interesting than the Wachowski Brothers' version. Okay, they weren't entirely representing the same thing, but you get the idea.

      Gibson's "impressionistic" style was a great big part of it, a style that sadly waned after the Sprawl trilogy was done. Going back and re-reading it, I'll admit it's a bit trite, but I still prefer it to the godawful style of Asimov's Foundation and Robot wherein he would congratulate himself m
    • by prgrmr ( 568806 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:17PM (#20134701) Journal
      she called it "the worst kind of pseudo-intellectual garbage,"

      The "worst", as opposed to the "best" kind?

      The book is speculative fiction: Is it garbage because its predictions haven't been met? Is it "pseudo-intellectual" because it is a work of fiction, and, to some extent, was intended to entertain? Or is it that she judged the story or the characters or the setting to her disliking insteading judging the writing itself?

      Granted, it's not an earth-shattering revelation on the insights of society and technology, but then I don't believe either the book itself or Gibson presented it that way.
    • by naoursla ( 99850 )
      I really, really wanted to like Neuromancer, but honestly I didn't really like it even when I read it in high school.
    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      anyone who analyses the literature will hate neuromancer and most other cyberpunk as well. if you prefer to visualize it as a story and put yourself into the world it is a thouroughly enjoyable book, i say this not based on old memories, but rather based on a week ago when i finished the book.
    • He's as wrong about this as he was his "cyberspace."

      What's "wrong" about it? It hasn't come to pass yet. Mice aside, we still interact with computers in roughly the same way as we did thirty years ago - prettier colors, some video, but still largely a keyboard, a monitor and text.

      When someone comes with a truly different way to interact with information, then we can call Gibson "wrong".

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Gibson and his predictions fare a lot better in the more recent Pattern Recognition. (I personally think his writing style has actually improved over time as well). There's a lot he gets right about marketing and media in the near future (which would be around now, I guess), and for a book where the September 11th attacks are critical to the plot, the narrative has held up pretty well, particularly in comparison to the certain Big Important Novels which tried to make them the framing device for this gener
  • Not so hard, really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pieterh ( 196118 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:59PM (#20134499) Homepage
    It's pretty easy to predict the future. The hard part is the timing.

    Anyhow, here goes:

    - most of the world gets online and fully integrated into the digital revolution
    - wireless networks everywhere
    - more and more services get online
    - large-screen video conferencing in every living room
    - digital glasses that overlay the real world with maps, wikipedia pages, everything
    - facial recognition for *everyone* you meet, pops up their wikipedia page
    - no more queues at the post office - every interaction with the state will go online
    - movies will, eventually die, and be replaced with something like scripted video games
    - virtual worlds will become a major front-end to the internet
    - rising energy costs will define how we use transport
    - poorer nations will be strongest adopters of ecological technologies
    - we'll see 'fabricators', able to make any product out of a digital design
    - the *AA will crack down on design sharers
    - cities will reject the automobile and become a lot nicer places to live in
    - pharmaceutics will go digital and we'll be exchanging digital drug designs
    - some bright kid will hack a drug fab to produce artificial life
    - the church and the *AA will crack down on DNA design sharers
    - the country as a notion will die and be replaced with the online community
    - big, big changes in political structures

    • Climate change (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gilesjuk ( 604902 )
      Alternately, climate change destroys much of human life on the planet.

      It won't be Mad Max, Waterworld or Soylent Green but certain foods are going to become a luxary. Certain fish already are.
      • Alternately, climate change destroys much of human life on the planet.

        With any luck, we won't actually be so stupid as to try and "repair" something we do not fully understand.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      - rising energy costs will define how we use transport
      or Nuclear Fission will start to replace natural gas and coal fired power plants followed shortly buy Fusion in about 20 years.
      Coal reformulation will replace oil as the primary source of liquid hydrocarbons.

      - poorer nations will be strongest adopters of ecological technologies
      Poorer nations will continue to exploit the cheapest and dirtiest fuel sources such as coal.

      - cities will reject the automobile and become a lot nicer places to live in

      Would be nic
  • Just as many issues with the future in the 80s, no?

    Cold war erupts, MAD destroys humankind. Bad fashion causes global intellectual meltdown.

    He writes what he wants, but the reason Neuromancer & Co. was amazing was because he took certain aspects of the current time and extrapolated them into an interesting future. Just like all great science fiction, and I'm sure there will be other authors writing great works about the future in the future (heh). If global warming, singularities or a collapse of civili
    • by Cadallin ( 863437 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @06:06PM (#20135207)

      He writes what he wants, but the reason Neuromancer & Co. was amazing was because he took certain aspects of the current time and extrapolated them into an interesting future.

      I think this is the problem. Look at where we are right now. Extrapolating elements of our present into an interesting future is something many authors have struggled with. Because, quite frankly, the era we're living in is pretty dystopian. For an example: Today Congress passed the "Protect America Act" which grants sweeping surveillance powers to the executive branch with no judicial or legislative oversight. George Orwell didn't know the half of it. How do you work with that? Who is most likely to be able to other throw the totalitarian regime recent US governments have turned the USA into? The Chinese? The other great totalitarian surveillance state?

      I really disagree that there were as many issues pressing down on us in the '80's. Barring a Strangelove-esque Doomsday device, MAD was never going to really end it all. The worst issues facing the '80's were the ones that we were blissfully unaware of, or ignoring. Global Warming, Energy crisis in the next 50 years, etc. Worst case (realistic) scenario with the Cold War was the utter destruction of the major world power bases, which doesn't sound all that bad in hindsight.

      In my opinion, the best long term extrapolation from our current situation is "Earth Abides" by George R. Stewart, and its probably too optimistic.

  • by backslashdot ( 95548 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:04PM (#20134539)
    You know a lot of people in the world live as though airplanes, cars, televisions, and the light bulb were not even invented yet. So even if someday someone invents cool stuff, there will always be a segment of the world to which those things may as well have never been invented. The computer I am typing this to you on is science fiction to them.

    So, can we use our existing technology to provide decent preventative health, transportation, and clean water for everyone? It requires no inventing. No new technology. Their governments just need to allow entrepreneurs build a bunch of solar or nuclear power plants to desalinate the water and power heavy construction equipment (currently most third world governments don't allow entrepreneurs to compete against eh state owned corrupt utility companies).
  • Had you ever watched one of those ancient b/w sci-fi shows or movies on TV? They predict scientific and technological advances to a certain extent - on some they fall short (DNA anyone?), and on some they expected too much (dude, where's my flying car?). But most of them are way off track on something: Society. The way it changes, advances or goes back is unpredictable.

    Think about it. 10 years ago, sites like youtube or facebook were simply out of the radar. (Heck, 15 years ago Google didn't exist!) What to
    • by nuzak ( 959558 )
      > Internet cults like Heaven's Gate? Corporations patenting certain kinds of corn? The RIAA's war on priv^H^H^H^Hpiracy?

      Indeed, Gibson really ought to reconsider hanging up his prognosticator cap.

      Unless we see a really massive enabling of peoples in other parts of the world, the only prediction I see is Orwell's: "a boot stomping on a human face. Forever."
  • Predicting the future is actually very easy.

    The future will be very much like today. In 10 years, we'll have the same modes of transportation, the same fuels, the same foreign policy issues, the same bad TV, the same bad politicians, etc.

    If you look back 10 years, what are the big changes?
  • The rate of technology advancement indeed has been quite impressive in recent years, with the advancement of computers for instance where yesterdays million dollar computer can be outperformed by todays $200 computer. Computers were once mainly text oriented devices, and now even the cheapest ones can play video and render complex 3D graphics. This information age which has come to pass, is one of the best things that could have happened, especially if it is controlled and utilised by the masses rather than

    • And the sun may not rise tomorrow either! There's some *remote* possibility that the Earth may stop turning suddenly or the sun may go out because of some "law of nature" which is not obeyed "in every single instance".

      I would bet my life on the sun rising tomorrow. Furthermore, consider this: if some earthly living thing in billions of years of evolution had come across "forever inexhaustible non-waste producing energy", we would ALL be running on it--the selective advantage
    • > The over unity energy technology may be quite possible.

      Sure, if you repeal the laws of physics

      Tesla was a genius, but he turned into a complete wackjob in his old age.
  • by eclectro ( 227083 )
    Dates with girls.

    I can hardly wait.
  • ...Or is it? Eh...I always thought Sci-Fi was more about bringing the present to light then predicting anything about the future but who am I... :p
    • You're right.

      The problem is that when you hold the "mirror" of science-fiction up to REALITY, it doesn't look all that much different. I imagine that is what Gibson's problem is.

      We've reached a point with technology where we know A LOT about what is possible and what isn't possible. In many ways, the "dreams" of sci-fi are shattered. No FTL travel, no artificial intelligence, no unlimited energy source. That pretty much covers it, doesn't it?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Wow, pessimistic much?

        FTL travel I'll give you; it would take a major rewrite of physics to make that a reality. It's not happening.

        AI, though? I'm unaware of any fundamental reason AI can't be realized. Quite the opposite: the fact that what we term intelligence has already arisen naturally rather strongly implies that it can be done. It may not be right around the corner, but - unlike FTL travel - we know intelligence to exist; all we have to do is replicate it.

        And unlimited energy? If you're defining it
  • oblig simpsons. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:12PM (#20134639) Homepage Journal
    Somehow the future is surprising, yet not surprising. I revel in watching the world change, the same mistakes being made, but still with crazy plot twists.

    The future has always been quite similar to the past, that's probably the most striking thing about it. Culturally things have hardly changed in centuries. People fight over religion, travel wherever they can to get away from each other, experiment with anything they get their hands on, grow up, get married, raise children, and die. The tools we use change, but our actual lives as homo sapiens...not so much.
  • 1) Gravity is finally figured out as a force.

    We engineer devices to nullify it and usher in a new age of transportation, at ANY speed.

    Instantaneous speed now has an entirely NEW meaning.

    2) Dark Energy is found to be something you can actually tap into.

    New forms of electrical generation result in unlimited amounts of energy as we tap into the local universe and use as much as we want.

    3) New materials are manufactured from Dark Matter. Buildings 10 miles high, space elevators ala Space 3001.

    It could happen.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by |/|/||| ( 179020 )
      Unlimited energy and control of the graviton? I'm guessing that the result would be... global warfare on an unprecedented scale, resulting in either A) an endless dictatorship or B) the end of humans. Probably B, when somebody's automatic war machine turns out to be an uncontrolled chain reaction.

      Not to be too much of a cynic or anything, but I'm glad the mysteries of the universe aren't unlocked easily, and that they don't usually live up to the hype. Change is good, but sudden change is destabilizing.
  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by iknownuttin ( 1099999 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:13PM (#20134655)
    "Sci-fi novelist William Gibson has given up trying to predict the future -- because he says it's become far too difficult.

    I find it impossible. I guess that's why I can't get a job:

    Interviewer: "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"

    Me: "If I knew what was happening in 5 years, I'd be a billionaire and NOT interviewing for some dipshit wage slave job! And maybe, if I actually knew, I'd be committing suicide for my dismal future of: commuting at least an hour in traffic one way each day, having to put up asinine reviews that are geared to make me fail, watching CEOs who get fired leave with tens of millions of dollars in severance while, the rest of us watch our jobs go overseas,and ... oh fuck it!"

  • "Everything that can be invented has been invented." --Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

    "If something's expensive to develop, and somebody's not going to get paid, it won't get developed. So you decide: Do you want software to be written, or not?" -- Bill Gates, 1984

    I rest my case.
  • This is one author, continuing to write, but changing his focus. Interesting article about William's change of focus and his ideas, but the "William Gibson gives up on the future" is obviously inflamatory and meant to draw in the eyeballs, when it's far more interesting to present an even keeled title. I would have felt compelled to remark more about sci-fi writing and the near future if it weren't for this obviously crappy title.

    Did the firehose suddenly run out of water when this article was being modde
  • People will find more ways to kill time.
  • This is the man that created the dark, techno-future from hell, whith no shanty towns instead of suburban paradises, and everyone is at heart a slave.

    Me, I am happy that Gibson finally admits he has no freakin' clue what the future will bring.

    Maybe he will stop writing about the dark ages as if they were coming to us instead of long past.

  • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) *
    Allow me to translate...

    "Screw this. I'm going to write about a farm. With a horse. And he will act like horses do and eat hay. He will not be genetically engineered super-horse that's plugged into the online universe, hacking the orbital death ray lasers.

    His name will be Fred.

    Fred will whinny and snort while trotting about the pasture. The only thing fantastic about Fred will be the sheer amount of manure he produces."
  • Science fiction is a mixed bag depending of what plot devices the author need. This is why some don't like it. It is not necessarily a well told story, it is not necessarily a mystery, it is not necessarily a statement of how smart the author is. At it's highest is an exploration of what the process of technology has done, is doing, and might do. At it's most base it is simply another plot device, not unlike Huckleberry Finn. While there is nothing wrong with this, it tends to be a simplistic use of th
  • We have Shatner.

    "It's a step-by-step process. You climb on the backs of giants. Only rarely are there leaps. Scientific advances mostly are incremental. If enough time goes by, a decade goes by, suddenly, that increment, you take year one to year 10, looks like a giant leap. So here we are 30, 40 years after `Star Trek,' and it looks like it was extraordinary, the advances we've made." res-world-of-trek-tech.htm []

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @05:59PM (#20135143)
    It's silly of someone so smart to claim that technology has been driving social change since the mid 18th century, because it was it was less than a century later that Marx put forward the view that technology is the only driver of ideology and social change ever. He didn't call it "technology," he called it "means of production," but we recognize what it is. Seemed pretty radical to some people then; funny he now seems so right.

    Of course, Marx was different in this way: He did make one prediction about the future whose means of production were unknown to him: he thought there would be a people's revolution in which people would take control of the technology developed in the capitalist era, because of the inevitable resort to artificial scarcity that the capitalist system will increasingly have to turn to. Scarcity will need to be artificial because technology will be able to meet all the basic and many of the advanced needs of everyone in the world. Capitalism doesn't work in situations of plentitude, so there is no market for breathable air (yet). So the artificial scarcity that Capitalists will need to create will eventually get so ridiculous that people will just depose them. As far as futurism goes, I think this outline is aging rather well.

    And by the way, this is much closer to what Marx actually said than what most "Communists" claim he said. The Marx I read never advocated a revolution, resource distibution, or any of that other socialist stuff. He was a dialectician who thought that history has an inner logic and moves forward inevitably. Pleading with people doesn't move history; technology moves history. He argued pretty forcefully that Capitalism isn't the final system, but not because he was trying to stir up a revolution. It was just to convince people that it can't last, that, like every earlier technological/ideological era, it will be undone by the tools it eventually creates. So if Capitalism creates automatic strawberry harvesters because Mexicans get too expensive, and intelligent robots and fusion powerplants and workerless factories, it will eventually make the gear of it's own demise. Marx repeatedly extolled Capitalism for being so damn good at producing new technology in the most efficient way possible. It was Lenin, not Marx, who thought that a society can leap past all the stages of industrial and post-industrial capitalism and start a revolution with just an ideological vanguard. Obviously, that didn't work out. Marx was clear that technology drives ideology and not the other way around.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by vidarh ( 309115 )
      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 w

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @07:08PM (#20135979) Homepage Journal
    Gibson rewrote SF future with his revolutionary _Neuromancer_. But each subsequent book shone a little less intensely, and all in the reflected brightness of Neuromancer. _Mona Lisa Overdrive_ is really recommendable only to fans of _Neuromancer_, and _Virtual Light_ is often best left unrecommended, so as not to spoil the "trilogy". Even _Idoru_, which was good, was just an overlong novella, like part of a "Director's Cut" of _Neuromancer_.

    I've enjoyed Gibson's books since they were first published. And I've enjoyed asking him questions when he's given readings. But I haven't considered Gibson an expert on "the future", even his own that he writes about, in almost 20 years. That's a lot of past to make up for a futurist.

    Now Neal Stephenson, Gibson's literary heir: he's still got a plausible future machine running upstairs.
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:22PM (#20137097) Homepage Journal
    In the future authors will have 5 or 6 different good ideas and they will recycle them endlessly into an entire genre.
  • by endianx ( 1006895 ) on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:58PM (#20137433)
    I've never thought those types of books were about predicting the future. Take a book like 1984. It hasn't come true, at least not yet. But even if it isn't a correct interpretation of the future, it still serves as a warning. In fact, perhaps a small part of the reason 1984 never happened is because it was written.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"