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40 years of Neuromancer, the book that invented cyberspace and predicted our future

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40 years of Neuromancer, the book that invented cyberspace and predicted our future

Internet and virtual reality, AI, the space tourismmicrochips in the brain, the obsession with technology, the hacker and even mega corporations: they are technologies, words and ideas that are part of our everyday life today but which when they were conceived, between the pages of the novel Neuromante by Canadian writer William Gibson, they seemed incredible.

In 1984, Gibson’s book anticipated with surprising clarity the direction in which progress and society were going and also gave the definition of cyberspace (a term used for the first time by Gibson in 1982 The night we burned Chrome), that is, the set of computers connected to each other, connected to create an alternative reality in which people spend time away from real reality. Era another way to describe the Interneteven though the Internet didn’t even exist at the time.

This year Neuromante blows out 40 candles, and it is no coincidence that Apple has chosen 2024 for to announce (Who) the arrival of a 10-episode series on its streaming service taken from the book: it is the perfect opportunity to retrace some of the technologies and ideas that Gibson was good at anticipating in the novel, which has become a cornerstone of the cyberpunk science fiction.

In-depth analysis From fear of the different to Frankenstein syndrome: is violence against robots the beginning of a new racism? by Emanuele Capone 14 February 2024 The Sprawl Trilogy, which includes Neuromancer, together with the collection of short stories The Night We Burned Chrome

Internet, virtual reality and AI: the predictions are right

The first is main is obviously Internet: without going into the details of when the HTTP protocol was drawn up which led to the actual birth of the World Wide Web (it was 1991) and when the Internet really spread widely, imagine in 1984 that this thing would happen, that people would remain for hours in front of computers or otherwise connected to them to connect to other computers scattered who knows where in the world, demonstrates remarkable foresight. This technology is linked to terms that are obvious today but difficult to understand at the time (in his books, Gibson does not explain anything and lets the reader understand from the context), such as hacker or “cyberspace cowboys”, which broadly correspond to what we called surfers in the late nineties. That is, people who, for work or pleasure, spend their days in the boundless and unexplored virtual prairies of the Internet.

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Double tied to The Internet, as Gibson understood itthat is, a cyberspace in which to move, walk, do things and even get killed, there is virtual realitywhich the protagonist of Neuromante connects using a set of devices that resemble the viewers that we are now accustomed to: today anyone can buy one and have similar experiences for working, playing video games, dealing with the outside world. The concept is so common and widespread that it has generated others (such as mixed reality or augmented reality) depending on the level of interaction with true reality. Clearly also part of the triptych of successful predictions artificial intelligences: the Neuromancer of the title is an AI, as is his counterpart, who is called Wintermute and plays the villain in the novel. At the time it seemed crazy to talk about computers capable of thinking and intelligences alternative to human intelligence. Today we can chat with ChatGPT, Bard and other AI simply through your smartphoneand we also have greater awareness of the threats that these tools potentially pose.

In the book, Gibson also imagines another couple of technological solutions that aren’t there yet but are almost there: the space tourism and the grafting of chip in the brain to enhance human capabilities. The various Musk, Bezos, Branson and their companies are dedicating themselves to the first thing, with varying degrees of success, which for now deal (or will deal) with bring billionaire customers into orbit with time to waste and money to spend. But an expansion of the phenomenon is definitely probable. Musk is also involved in the second, whose Neuralink (things?) it does exactly what Gibson imagined: installing microprocessors in people’s heads to cure them, improve them and possibly even make them live forever.

The image shared by Apple to announce the arrival of the series based on Neuromancer The writer William Gibson in a recent photo Rankings Science, science fiction, AI and video games: 10 films and series in which Emanuele Capone’s technology dominates 18 December 2023

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Ideas and what isn’t there yet

Then there are the ideas and concepts that Gibson teased into Neuromantewhich do not materialize in some specific object but have more to do with his vision of what our future would be. And that has actually become our present. The characters in the novel, and in other works by the writer, are obsessed with technology and they are somehow addicted to it, they look for it everywhere, they use it to complete various tasks and to improve their body. They undergo surgery to become more powerful, stronger, more capable. More beautiful, too. Do you remember anything? Yes, remember us and our relationship with technological innovations, the latest smartphone that we can’t help but desire, the computer that has just been released and that we would like, the viewer that can do what couldn’t be done before. Remember us and the same, identical and a little morbid search for perfection.

Again: the idea of ​​being able is also part of Gibson’s poetics recreate other identities in virtual worlds and live those lives as if they were our real life. Being other people on the Internet and in cyberspace, where no one knows us and we can pretend to be whoever we want: female if we are male, tall if we are short, strong if we are weak, sexy if we are not. Which is exactly it what we can do today on social networks or in video games, where each of us can create infinite accounts and be infinite people. Then, the mega corporations, which in the world imagined by Gibson dominate society, condition political choices based on their interests and are practically untouchable and above the law. Are they there today? Maybe not as the author of described them Neuromantebut little is missing: only in the field of technology, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and the other hundreds of billion dollar companies Aren’t they capable of influencing government decisions with their economic strength and making their weight felt on society and people, directly or indirectly? The impression is definitely that.

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Among the predictions that have not (yet?) been correct, there are the android, understood as humanoid robots but with their own intelligence and conscience or even with the conscience of a person stored in their artificial brain. This thing is connected to another imagined by the writer, seen recently also in the movie The Creator: the possibility of download a person’s memories on a hard disk and then transfer it elsewhere. In a robot, precisely. Or use it as a sort of DVD of the future, which you can connect to to relive the experiences of others in virtual reality: they are what Gibson calls SimStimthe Squids from the film Strange Days or the video game BDs Cyberpunk 2077. They aren’t there yet in our world, but this is another of William Gibson’s strengths: he is good not only at anticipating the future, but also at surpassing it.


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