Pioneering Sci-Fi Author William Gibson Predicts in 1997 How the Internet Will Change Our World

"What's the one thing that all great works of science fiction have in common?" asks a 1997 episode of The Net, the BBC's television series about the possibilities of this much-talked-about new thing called the internet. "They all tried to see into the future, and they all got it wrong. Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: all, to some extent or other, wrong. And there's another name to add to this list: William Gibson." But then on strolls Gibson himself, fresh off the writing of Idoru, a novel involving a human who wants to marry a digitally generated Japanese pop star, to grant the interview above.

In it Gibson admits that computers hadn't gone quite the way he'd imagined thirteen years earlier in his debut novel Neuromancer — but in which he also offers prescient advice about how we should regard new technology even today. "The thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn't actually like the internet at all!" Gibson says in a more recent interview with Wired. "I didn't get it right but I said there was going to be something." Back in the mid-1980s, as he tells the BBC, "there was effectively no internet to extrapolate from. The cyberspace I made up isn't being used in Neuromancer the way we're using the internet today."




Gibson had envisioned a corporate-dominated network infested with "cybernetic car thieves skulking through it attempting to steal tidbits of information." By the mid-1990s, though, the internet had become a place where "a really talented and determined fifteen-year-old" could create something more compelling than "a multinational entertainment conglomerate might come up with." He tells the BBC that "what the internet has become is as much a surprise to me as the collapse of the Soviet Union was," but at that point he had begun to perceive the shape of things to come. "I can't see why it won't become completely ubiquitous," he says, envisioning its evolution "into something like television to the extent that it penetrates every level of society."

At the same time, "it doesn't matter how fast your modem is if you're being shelled by ethnic separatists" — still very much a concern in certain parts of the world — and even the most promising technologies don't merit our uncritical embrace. "I think we should respect the power of technology and try to fear it in a rational way," he says. "The only appropriate response" is to give in to neither technophobia nor technophilia, but "to teach ourselves to be absolutely ambivalent about them and imagine their most inadvertent side effects," the side effects "that tend to get us" — not to mention the ones that make the best plot elements. Seeing as how we now live in a world where marriage to synthetic Japanese idols has become a possibility, among other developments seemingly pulled from the pages of Gibson's novels, we would do well to heed even these decades-old words of advice about his main subject.

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Daily Routine: The Discipline That Fueled Her Imagination

ursula k le guin writing advice

Image by Gorthian, via Wikimedia Commons

"Some of us are Norman Mailer," said Ursula K. LeGuin in a 1976 interview with science-fiction fanzine Luna Monthly, "but others of us are middle-aged Portland housewives." And though Le Guin may have thought of herself as one of the latter, "middle-aged Portland housewife" is hardly the way the rest of us would describe her. Over a nearly 60-year-long career, Le Guin produced an enormous body of literary work, including but not limited to the six books in which she created the world of Earthsea and other acclaimed sci-fi novels like The Left Hand of DarknessThe Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven. And somehow she managed to write all of it between 7:15 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. each day.

Or that's what her ideal writing schedule dictates, anyway. Recently tweeted out by writer Michael J. Seidlinger as "the ideal writing routine," it first appeared in an interview she gave in 1988 (and more recently reappeared in Ursula Le Guin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations).




Beginning at the early hour of 5:30 in the morning, the time to "wake up and lie there and think," it continues on to breakfast — and "lots" of it — at 6:15, and the commencement of the day's "writing, writing, writing" an hour later, which lasts until lunch at noon. After that, Le Guin considered what we consider her main work to be done, moving on to such pursuits as reading, music, correspondence, "maybe house cleaning," and dinner. Past 8:15, she said, "I tend to be very stupid," a state in which nobody could write the sort of books we remember her for.

But however originally she wrote, Le Guin was hardly exceptional in living this way while doing it. "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work," said Gustave Flaubert, a maxim true for enough writers that we also worked it in when we featured an infographic on the daily routines of famous creative people. In both Flaubert and Le Guin's case (or in the case of a writer like Haruki Murakami, who rises famously early and runs famously hard when working on a book), their domestic lives, well-ordered to the point that an outside observer would find them boring, facilitated the creation of literature like none that had ever come before. This despite the fact that, on the surface, few novels could seem more dissimilar than Flaubert and Le Guin's, but each writer would have seen what the other had in common: specifically, that they knew what it took to get the imagination well and truly fired up.

via Michael J. Seidlinger

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Oodles of Classic Doctor Who Episodes Streaming Free Online This Month

A quick fyi: This month, Twitch is presenting a marathon streaming of classic Doctor Who episodes. Continuing through January 25th, they plan to broadcast "11 to 12 hours of new episodes per day (~27 episodes), repeating once so you can catch Doctor Who nearly 24 hours a day, every day..." Stream the episodes right above, or here on Twitch.

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via BoingBoing

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Isaac Asimov Predicts in 1983 What the World Will Look Like in 2019: Computerization, Global Co-operation, Leisure Time & Moon Mining

Painting of Asimov on his throne by Rowena Morill, via Wikimedia Commons

“It’s difficult to make predictions,” they say, “especially about the future.” The witticism has been variously attributed. If Yogi Berra said it, it's adorable nonsense, if Mark Twain, dry plainspoken irony. If Niels Bohr, however, we have a statement that makes us wonder what exactly “the future” could mean in a radically uncertain universe.

If scientists can’t predict the future, who can? Science fiction writers, of course. They may be spectacularly wrong at times, but few professionals seem better equipped to imaginatively extrapolate from current conditions—cultural, technological, social, and political—and show us things to come. J.G. Ballard, Octavia Butler, Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut… all have foreseen many of the marvels and dystopian nightmares that have arrived since their time.




In 1964, Asimov used the occasion of the New York World’s Fair to offer his vision of fifty years hence. “What will the World’s Fair of 2014 be like?” he asked in The New York Times, the question itself containing an erroneous assumption about the durability of that event. As a scientist himself, his ideas are both technologically farseeing and conservative, containing advances we can imagine not far off in our future, and some that may seem quaint now, though reasonable by the standards of the time (“fission-power plants… supplying well over half the power needs of humanity”).

Nineteen years later, Asimov ventured again to predict the future—this time of 2019 for The Star. Assuming the world has not been destroyed by nuclear war, he sees every facet of human society transformed by computerization. This will, as in the Industrial Revolution, lead to massive job losses in “clerical and assembly-line jobs” as such fields are automated. “This means that a vast change in the nature of education must take place, and entire populations must be made ‘computer-literate’ and must be taught to deal with a ‘high-tech’ world,” he writes.

The transition to a computerized world will be difficult, he grants, but we should have things pretty much wrapped up by now.

By the year 2019, however, we should find that the transition is about over. Those who can be retrained and re-educated will have been: those who can’t be will have been put to work at something useful, or where ruling groups are less wise, will have been supported by some sort of grudging welfare arrangement.

In any case, the generation of the transition will be dying out, and there will be a new generation growing up who will have been educated into the new world. It is quite likely that society, then, will have entered a phase that may be more or less permanently improved over the situation as it now exists for a variety of reasons.

Asimov foresees the climate crisis, though he doesn’t phrase it that way. “The consequences of human irresponsibility in terms of waste and pollution will become more apparent and unbearable with time and again, attempts to deal with this will become more strenuous.” A “world effort” must be applied, necessitating “increasing co-operation among nations and among groups within nations” out of a “cold-blooded realization that anything less than that will mean destruction for all.”

He is confident, however, in such “negative advances” as the “defeat of overpopulation, pollution and militarism." These will be accompanied by “positive advances” like improvements in education, such that “education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” Likewise, technology will enable increased quality of life for many.

more and more human beings will find themselves living a life rich in leisure.

This does not mean leisure to do nothing, but leisure to do something one wants to do; to be free to engage in scientific research. in literature and the arts, to pursue out-of-the-way interests and fascinating hobbies of all kinds.

If this seems “impossibly optimistic,” he writes, just wait until you hear his thoughts on space colonization and moon mining.

The Asimov of 1983 sounds as confident in his predictions as the Asimov of 1964, though he imagines a very different world each time. His future scenarios tell us as much or more about the time in which he wrote as they do about the time in which we live. Read his full essay at The Star and be the judge of how accurate his predictions are, and how likely any of his optimistic solutions for our seemingly intractable problems might be in the coming year.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

NASA Creates Movie Parody Posters for Its Expedition Flights: Download Parodies of Metropolis, The Matrix, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and More

For just over eighteen years now, NASA has been conducting expeditions to the International Space Station. Each of these missions has not just a name, or at least a number (last week saw the launch of Expedition 58), but an official poster with a group photo of the crew. "These posters were used to advertise expeditions and were also hung in NASA facilities and other government organizations," says Bored Panda. "However, when astronauts got bored of the standard group photos they decided to spice things up a bit."

And "what's a better way to do that other than throwing in some pop culture references?" As anyone who has ever worked with scientists knows, a fair few of them have somehow made themselves into living compendia of knowledge of not just their field but their favorite books, movies, and television shows — not always, but very often, books, movies, and television shows science-fictional in nature.




The prime example, it hardly bears mentioning, would be Star Trek, but the well of fandom at NASA runs much deeper than that.

You'll get a sense of how far that well goes if you have a look through the Expedition poster archive at NASA's web site. There you'll find not just pop culture references but elaborately designed tributes — downloadable in high resolution — to the likes of not just Star Trek but Star WarsThe MatrixThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the sole possible theme, Douglas Adams fans will agree, for Expedition 42), and even Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which first gave dystopian sci-fi its visual form in 1927 (and which you can watch here). Albums are also fair game, as evidenced by the Abbey Road poster for Expedition 26.

Bored Panda calls these posters "hilariously awkward," but opinions do vary: "I love them," writes Boing Boing's Rusty Blazenhoff. "I think they're fun and creative." And whatever you think of the concepts, can you fail to be impressed by the sheer attention to detail that has clearly gone into replicating the source images? It's all more or less in line with the formidable graphic design skill at NASA, previously featured here on Open Culture, that has gone into its posters celebrating space travel and the 40th anniversary of the Voyager missions.

Going through the Expedition poster archive, I notice that none seems yet to have paid tribute to Andrei Tarkovsky's Solarissurely one of the most powerful pieces of outer space-related cinema ever made. Granted, that film has much less to do with teamwork and camaraderie than the intense psychological isolation of the individual, which would make it tricky indeed to recreate any of its memorable images as proud group photos. But if NASA's poster designers can't take on that mission, nobody can.

via Boing Boing

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

In 1964, Isaac Asimov Predicts What the World Will Look Like Today: Self-Driving Cars, Video Calls, Fake Meats & More

Painting of Asimov on his throne by Rowena Morill, via Wikimedia Commons

Isaac Asimov's readers have long found something prophetic in his work, but where did Asimov himself look when he wanted to catch a glimpse of the future? In 1964 he found one at the New York World's Fair, the vast exhibition dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe" that history now remembers as the most elaborate expression of the industrial and technological optimism of Space Age America. Despite the fanciful nature of some of the products on display, visitors first saw things there — computers, for instance — that would become essential in a matter of decades.

"What is to come, through the fair's eyes at least, is wonderful," Asimov writes in a piece on his experience at the fair for the New York TimesBut it all makes him wonder: "What will life be like, say, in 2014 A.D., 50 years from now? What will the World's Fair of 2014 be like?" His speculations begin with the notion that "men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better," which they certainly have, though not so much through the use of "electroluminescent panels" that will make "ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button." Still, all the other screens near-constantly in use seem to provide all the glow we need for the moment.




"Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs," Asimov predicts, and so it has, though our kitchens have yet to evolve to the point of preparing "'automeals,' heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on." He hits closer to the mark when declaring that "robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence." He notes that IBM's exhibit at the World's Fair had nothing about robots to show, but plenty about computers, "which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the 'brains' of robots."

"The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords," Asimov writes, and in the case of our all-important mobile phones, that has turned out to be at least half-true. But we still lack the "long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes" produced by "fission-power plants which, by 2014, will be supplying well over half the power needs of humanity." The real decade of the 2010s turned out to be more attached to the old ways, not least by cords and cables, than Asimov imagined. Even the United States of America hasn't quite mastered the art of designing highways so that "long buses move on special central lanes" along them, let alone forms of ground travel that "take to the air a foot or two off the ground."

But one advance in transportation Asimov describes will sound familiar to those of us living in the 2010s: "Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with 'Robot-brains,' vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver." Indeed, we hear about few reportedly imminent technologies these days as much as we hear about self-driving cars and their potential to get us where we're going while we do other things, such as engage in communications that "will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone," on a screen used "not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books."

Conversations with the moon colonies, Asimov needlessly warns us, "will be a trifle uncomfortable" because of the 2.5-second delay. But immediately thereafter comes the much more realistic prediction that "as for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set." Still, "all is not rosy" in the world of 2014, whose population will have swelled to 6,500,000,000 — or 7,298,453,033, as it happened. This has many implications for development, housing, and even agriculture, though the "mock-turkey" and "pseudosteak" eaten today has more to do with lifestyle than necessity. ("It won't be bad at all," Asimov adds, "if you can dig up those premium prices.")

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, "the world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders." Asimov foresees the need for a change in education to accommodate that, one hinted at even in General Electric's exhibit in 1964, which "consists of a school of the future in which such present realities as closed-circuit TV and programmed tapes aid the teaching process." His envisioned high-school curriculum would have students master "the fundamentals of computer technology" and get them "trained to perfection in the use of the computer language."

But even with all these developments, "mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity." The "serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences" of that will make psychiatry an important medical specialty, and "the lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine." Though Asimov may have been surprised by what we've come up with in the quarter-century since his death, as well as what we haven't come up with, he would surely have understood the sorts of anxieties that now beset us in the future-turned-present in which we live. But even given all the ways in which his predictions in 1964 have proven more or less correct, he did miss one big thing: there was no World's Fair in 2014.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Blade Runner Getting Adapted into a New Anime Series, Produced by Cowboy Bebop Animator Shinichiro Watanabe

You may remember, in the run-up to the theatrical release of Blade Runner 2049 last October, that three short prequels appeared on the internet. Black Out 2022 (above), the most discussed installment of that miniature trilogy, stood out both aesthetically and culturally: directed by famed Japanese animator Shinichiro Watanabe, it expanded the reality of Blade Runner through a form that has drawn so much from that universe over the previous 35 years. "I just want an animated bladerunner series now," says the current top-rated comment below that video, "this was magical." And so, a year later, the answer to the prayer of that commenter (and clearly many other viewers besides) has appeared on the horizon: a Japanese animated series called Blade Runner — Black Lotus.

Overseen by Watanabe in the producer role and directed by Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki, the latter of whom worked in the art department on Black Out 2022, the new series will take place in 2032, between the events of the short and those of Blade Runner 2049.




"It will also include some 'established characters' from the Blade Runner universe, but that could mean all sorts of things," writes The A.V. Club's Sam Barsanti. "Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard would already be in hiding at that point after fathering the miracle replicant baby, so it could be about him going off on some cool guy adventures, but Deckard doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who goes on cool guy adventures. Ryan Gosling’s K probably wasn’t 'born' yet, since he’s a Nexus-9 replicant and those weren’t created until later in the 2030s, but we don’t know for sure."

Perhaps supporting characters from both movies, "like Edward James Olmos’ Gaff (he might still be an LAPD cop) or Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace (he’s definitely hanging around, being an evil rich guy)," will show up. Whatever happens, the thirteen episodes of Blade Runner — Black Lotus will certainly have no small amount of both familiarity and surprise in store for fans of Blade Runner, as well as those of Watanabe's other work. That goes especially for his philosophical space bounty-hunter series Cowboy Bebop, itself the source material for a new live-action television series on Adult Swim, who will air Blade Runner — Black Lotus at the same time as it's streamed on anime site Crunchyroll.com. No release date has thus far been announced, but odds are the show's debut will happen some time in 2019 — the perfect year for it, as everyone thrilling to the prospect of more Blade Runner already knows.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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