The Cyberpunk World

How close is it to reality?

The world of cyberpunk may seem like science fiction, but in fact out of all the SF genres it is the one that is the most plausable, if also at times among the most pessimistic.  All that is required for the Cyberpunk universe to become reality are the following (read and tick off any that seem likely)

Further advancements in Technology - including computer and intenet technology, biotechnology, and, to some extent, nanotechnology.  Technology becomes more seamlessly fused with human exitsnce - from wearable computers (already here!) to "smart clothing" containing chips etc (on the cards) to cybernetic and bionic implants (crude experimental prototypes already around) more more

The Decline and Fall of the Nation State - the Nation-State only began, with Modernism, with the death of feudalism at the end of the Thirty Years' War, accompanied, during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, with the rise of modern science. The idea of a frontier, and of lines and borders on a map, of a world neatly divided into discrete political entities - did not in the feudal mind, nor does it exist in much of the 3rd world today. We may be witnessing the end of the Nation State, and with it, the comforts and safety that such a society provides. more more

Environmental Disaster, Overpopulation, Mass Extinction,... It's here already, and will only get worse, unless governments cooperate and take extraordinary steps to do something that involves planning beyond the next three or four year term of political office (and when did they last do that?...hmmmm?) more more

A society further dominated by giant monolithic Megacorporations - global capitalism - we've had that for years, and the recent merger of AOL and Time Warner is just one more (albeit dramatic) step.  But also implicit in this is the decline of the Nation State (with the megacorps stepping in to fill the gap).  Now that would be scary!.  This hasn't happened yet and does not look likely at the moment.  Still, who knows? more more

A polarised and injust society - if you are talking about the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, the increasing gap between haves and have nots, beggers on the street, welfare cutbacks in the favour of economic rationalism... well it is already here!  The cyberpunk universe simply assumes this trend will continue until there results a sort of neo-dickensian situation, a neo-feudalism with the lucky elite at the top, a small amount of overworked workers, and a huge mass of permamnent unemployed (the proles) at the bottom.  Although this isn't here yet, it is not a scenario that seems too unlikely given the present political and economic climate.  The elite rich, living in fear of the disenfranchised Great Unwashed, would then retreat to their guarded and gated fortified enclaves (hmm - sounds like Los Angeles  ;-) more more

A shift in the global economic power balance away from North America and towards Asia (or Outer Lithuania or wherever ;-)  This may or may not happen.  I used to think it likely that North America will be supplanted by Asia (particularily China) in this 21st century, but now I tend to see more of a decentralisation and multplicity of economic power centers

some links

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Technology

Robotics

robofly - click here for larger image (external link)Spy Fly - Tiny, winged robot to mimic nature's fighter jets

There's a robot in your future - by the external linkDiscovery Channel On-line


Thought-activated Computers
Salon com Thought-activated Computing - The cyberpunk vision of a brain-computer interface becomes real -- as a boon for the paralyzed.
Wearable Computers


Xbernaut Wearable PC

Web SiteWearComp.org, WearCam.org, UTWCHI, and Steve Mann's Personal Web Page/research - this site incorporates wearcomp.org (The International Wearable Computing WWW Site), wearcam.org (The Personal Imaging WWW Site), the WWW site for the University of Toronto WearComp/HI lab, and Prof. Steve Mann's personal WWW page

Web SiteStanford University Wearable Computing Laboratory - World's Smallest Operational Web Server (to date) - a web site run off a server the size of a matchbox!

web pagemessage board Slashdot Wearable PCs

web pageJapan eyes wearable PC

Web SiteWearable Gear Co. - wearable computers, MP3 players, and related stuff, links


More Near Future speculations

web pageDigital Society Five Years from Now - Wearable computers key to future

web pageClothes Like Mood Rings - some neat speculation in the future of fashion - part of the external linkOur Future site


Advances in Artificial Intelligence, computer creativity etc

web pageComputer takes on real writers in novel contest - NATALIE ARMSTRONG - Montreal Gazzette, Saturday 18 September 1999 - this is interesting - but it will be years before advances in AI allow really decent fiction from a computer intelligence

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Social Breakdown - and the Decline and Fall of the Nation State

web page The Coming Anarchy by Robert D. Kaplan - How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet The Atlantic Monthly, February 1994 mirror

The cities of West Africa at night are some of the unsafest places in the world. Streets are unlit; the police often lack gasoline for their vehicles; armed burglars, carjackers, and muggers proliferate. `The government in Sierra Leone has no writ after dark,' says a foreign resident, shrugging. When I was in the capital, Freetown, last September, eight men armed with AK-47s broke into the house of an American man. They tied him up and stole everything of value. Forget Miami: direct flights between the United States and the Murtala Muhammed Airport, in neighboring Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, have been suspended by order of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation because of ineffective security at the terminal and its environs. A State Department report cited the airport for 'extortion by law-enforcement and immigration officials.' This is one of the few times that the U.S. government has embargoed a foreign airport for reasons that are linked purely to crime. In Abidjan, effectively the capital of the Cote d'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, restaurants have stick-and-gun-wielding guards who walk you the fifteen feet or so between your car and the entrance, giving you an eerie taste of what American cities might be like in the future. An Italian ambassador was killed by gunfire when robbers invaded an Abidjan restaurant. The family of the Nigerian ambassador was tied up and robbed at gunpoint in the ambassador's residence. After university students in the Ivory Coast caught bandits who had been plaguing their dorms, they executed them by hanging tires around their necks and setting the tires on fire. In one instance Ivorian policemen stood by and watched the 'necklacings,' afraid to intervene. Each time I went to the Abidjan bus terminal, groups of young men with restless, scanning eyes surrounded my taxi, putting their hands all over the windows, demanding 'tips' for carrying my luggage even though I had only a rucksack. In cities in six West African countries I saw similar young men everywhere—hordes of them. They were like loose molecules in a very unstable social fluid, a fluid that was clearly on the verge of igniting."

"Think of a stretch limo in the potholed streets of New York City, where homeless beggars live. Inside the limo are the air-conditioned post-industrial regions of North America, Europe, the emerging Pacific Rim, and a few other isolated places, with their trade summitry and computer-information highways. Outside is the rest of mankind, going in a completely different direction."

We are entering a bifurcated world. Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel's and Fukuyama's Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes's First Man, condemned to a life that is "poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Although both parts will be threatened by environmental stress, the Last Man will be able to master it; the First Man will not. The Last Man will adjust to the loss of underground water tables in the western United States. He will build dikes to save Cape Hatteras and the Chesapeake beaches from rising sea levels, even as the Maldive Islands, off the coast of India, sink into oblivion, and the shorelines of Egypt, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia recede, driving tens of millions of people inland where there is no room for them, and thus sharpening ethnic divisions.

... Outside the stretch limo would be a rundown, crowded planet of skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors, influenced by the worst refuse of Western pop culture and ancient tribal hatreds, and battling over scraps of overused earth in guerrilla conflicts that ripple across continents and intersect in no discernible pattern--meaning there's no easy-to-define threat. "


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Overpopulation

One of the greatest dangers facing the world today is overpopulation. Just as too many bacteria, fungi, insects, mice, or any other lifeform will, if left unchecked, continue to grow and reproduce until all available food has been consu and they die of starvation or fropm fowling from their own wastes, so the same thing is happening to the human race on Earth, leading to the possibility of a rather unpleasant future dystopia and ecological ap[ocalypse. Here are some sites that warn of the dangers of overpopulation:

Web Site World Overpopulation Awareness - a lot of material here - even a world population counter!

Web Site Brain Food Table of Contents - excellent site!

Web Site Overpopulation of Earth

web page BBC Online - Making Sense Of - Overpopulation FAQs

list of books Books on Overpopulation


And here are some pagees put up by people with the mindset that (if they have their way) will get us into that mess!

web page Is Human Population Really the Problem? - Jeff Lindsay

web page Overpopulation? The Greatest Myth of Modern Times by Eamonn Keane, B. Comm., Dip. Ed., Grad. Dip. Ed..

web page Probe Ministries World Population - Rich Milne - not as polemical as some, even if he doesnt acknowledge overpopulation he seems like a nice guy

web page Exposing the Overpopulation MYTH - a short page by a moronic Christian

Be afraid....be very afraid.....

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Megacorps - the rich get richer, and for everyone else its just tough too bad

web pageCHANNEL 4 NEWS - What is happening to our food? - Broadcast November 25, 1999 Reporter: Andrew Veitch - genetically engineered mars bars: the external link Mars company has patented chemicals thought to be responsible for the flavour of the world's best cocoa.  It's the process of fermenting and drying the beans that gives Ghanaian cocoa its unique flavour. Mars's scientists have isolated the proteins responsible for the flavour, re-engineered the genes and invented a process for reproducing these proteins on an industrial scale. That would  mean the company would not have to pay the premium to use Ghanaian cocoa in Mars bars.  They might also be able to transfer the genes to less tasty, and cheaper, varieties of cocoa. A Danish company has taken out similar patents, and the biotech giant external linkDuPont has patents on genes in one of the products, cocoa butter.

According to the patents the plan is to produce the flavour of West African chocolate on an  industrial scale in vats of yeast. Mars denies that it will actually do this but the news is sending tremors through developing countries whose fragile economies largely depend on cocoa.  And it is the local farmers who are most vulnerable to the western biotech companies.


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The New Feudalism

In the bad old days societies were managed along rigidly stratified lines. You had kings or whoever on the top, then the landed aristrocracy and warrior class, then the artisans and tradesmen, and finally the peasants toiling in the mud and shit.   The industrial revolution, democracy, and the twentieth century put a temporary end to that.  For a while it seemed like everyone could be equal - at least in some nations, or so legislation tried to affirm.  But as the world rushes headfirst into the new Millenium, a new feudalistic order will come into effect through the decline of the global labor force....

PUBLIC NETBASEZERO NEWS DATAPOOL The following is from WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? A critique of a neo-futurist's vision of the decline of work by Bob Black (review of THE END OF WORK: THE DECLINE OF THE GLOBAL LABOR FORCE AND THE  DAWN OF THE POST-MARKET ERA. By Jeremy Rifkin. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995.

1. THE ALPHAS: A relatively small number of tenders of hightech, allied with essential tenders of people (entertainers, politicians, clergy, military officers,journalists, police chiefs, etc.). They work -- harder, in many cases, than anybody -- to keep the system, and each other, working.

2. THE BETAS: In lieu of the old-time middle class and middle management which have now become obsolete, there will be a social control class ofpolice, security guards, social "workers", school teachers, daycare workers,clinical psychologists, with-it parents, etc. It merits special attention that the morerobust and aggressive members of what used to be the working class will beco-opted to police those they left behind (as one Gilded Age robber baron put it, "Ican hire one half the working class to kill the other half"). Thus the underclassloses its leaders even as it's distracted by the phantasm of upward mobility.

3. THE GAMMAS. The vast majority of the population, what Nicola Tesla called "meat-machines", what Lee Kuan Yew called "digits," and what Jeremy Rifkin was too embarrassed to call anything. They cannot be controlled, as the other classes can, by work, because they don't work. They will be managed by bread and circuses.The bread consists of modest transfer payments maintaining the useless poor atsubsistence level as helpless wards of the state. The circuses will be provided bythe awesome techno-spectacles of what, in the wake of the Gulf War, can only becalled the military-entertainment complex. Hollywood and the Pentagon are always there for each other. Gammas form a mass, not a class, a simple aggregation of homologous multitudes, as Marx characterized the peasantry, "just as potatoes in a bag form abag of potatoes." They enjoy certain inalienable rights -- to change channels, to check their E-Mail, to vote -- and a few others of no practical consequence. Wars, professional sports, elections and advertising campaigns afford them the opportunity to identify with like-minded spectators. It doesn't matter how they divide themselves up as long as they do. As they really are all the same any differentiation they seize upon is arbitrary, but any differentiation will do. They choose up teams by race, gender, hobby, generation, diet, religion, every whichway but loose. In conditions of collective subservience, these distinctions haveexactly, and only, the significance of a boys' tree-house with a "No Girls" signposted outside. Gammas are essentially fans, and the self-activity of fans isexhausted in their formation of fan-clubs. They are potatoes who bag themselves.

4. THE DELTAS: This set-up will engender its own contradictions class societies always do. Frictionless capitalism is an oxymoron. There are plenty of pot-holes on the information superhighway. Everyclass will contribute a portion of drop-outs, deviants and dissidents. Some will rebel from principle, some from pathology, some from both. And their rebellion is functional as long as it doesn't get out of hand. The Deltas, the recalcitrants and unassimilables, furnish work for the Betas and tabloid-type entertainment for the Gammas. In an ever more boring, predictable world, crazies and criminals willprovide the zest, the risk, the mystery which the consciousness industry isincreasingly inadequate to simulate. VR, morphing, computer graphics -- all very impressive, for a while, but there's nothing like a whiff of fear, the scent of realblood, like the spectacles nobody did better than the Romans and the Aztecs. The show they called "America's Most Wanted" -- that's a double entrendre. Societies don't necessarily get, as some say, the criminals they deserve, but rather they get the criminals they want.



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Books


Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century - Mark Dery

Cyberia - Douglas Rushkoff

web pageOUR STOLEN FUTURE by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers - review by BRUCE KIRKLAND

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page uploaded 25 July 1999
modified 4, 24 & 30  November
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additional material 28 October

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