Tag Archives: William-Gibson

Counting down to Zero History

There’s a book called Zero History coming out soon, written by some guy called William Gibson…

Kinda surprised that the first place I saw this was at Wired… but then the Bigend trilogy (of which this is the third instalment) has rather conspicuously not been marketed as (or should that be to?) science fiction. Maybe the publishers figure all us geeks are gonna buy it anyway?

They may have a point. 🙂

The apotheosis of J D Shapely

Hopeful news from the world of HIV/AIDS research:

… U.S. government scientists have discovered three powerful antibodies, the strongest of which neutralizes 91% of HIV strains, more than any AIDS antibody yet discovered.


The antibodies were discovered in the cells of a 60-year-old African-American gay man, known in the scientific literature as Donor 45, whose body made the antibodies naturally.

As William Gibson put it on Twitter: “They found J.D. Shapely! Off to Colored People for a celebratory backpiece! :-D”

(If you’re not grokking the reference, you should make time to read Gibson’s Virtual Light.)

And here’s a bonus line from the little article there, that puts the incredible amount of work involved in this sort of research into perspective:

Researchers screened 25 million of his cells to find 12 that produced the antibodies.

That is one mad tiny needle in a huge meat haystack, right there.

William Gibson on the cyberpunk obsession with brands

Having recently completed his forthcoming novel Zero History, William Gibson is kicking back at his blog and fielding questions from the intertubes; if you want an insight into the man’s attitudes and philosophies (toward his work, and the world in general), you’d be well advised to tune in.

This one particularly caught my eye, because it calls out a foible I’ve always noticed in Gibson’s writing (and Chairman Bruce’s, too, though to a different degree) – his fetish for explicitly dropping in brand names and obsessional detail about clothing, hardware and vehicles. Gibson’s justification is charming, not least because I’ve always had a similar sort of obsession*:

Q Why do you seem obsessed with brand name apparel et al in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country?

A You ain’t seen nothing, yet! Actually the new one may explain that, a bit. Or just further convince some people that I’m obsessed. It’s one of the ways in which I feel I understand how the world works, and there aren’t really that many of those. It’s not about clothes, though, or branding; it’s about code, subtext. I was really delighted, for instance, to learn who made George Bush’s raincoats. A company in Little Rock (now extinct, alas) but they were made of Ventile, a British cotton so tightly woven that you can make fire hoses (and RAF ocean survival suits) out of it. Which exists because Churchill demanded it, because the Germans had all the flax production sewn up. No flax, no fire hoses for the Blitz. The cultural complexities that put that particular material on Bush’s back delight me deeply; it’s a kind of secret history (and not least because most people would find it fantastically boring, I imagine).

Brands are stories, in and of themselves. I wonder if the cultural histories of consumer goods are one of the few types of narrative that can survive postmodern erosion?

[ * There’s a part of me that always hates noting similarities like this, because it feels like my brain trying to tell me “oh yeah, you’re just like him, bravo you!” Anyone else get that kind of feeling when they read author interviews or blogs? ]

The slowing of technological progress

technology_plug_laptopAlref Nordmann writes in IEEE Spectrum of how technological progress is, contrary to the promises of singularitarians like Ray Kurzweil, actually slowing down:

Technological optimists maintain that the impact of innovation on our lives is increasing, but the evidence goes the other way. The author’s grand mother lived from the 1880s through the 1960s and witnessed the adoption of electricity, phonographs, telephones, radio, television, airplanes, antibiotics, vacuum tubes, transistors, and the automobile. In 1924 she became one of the first in her neighborhood to own a car. The author contends that the inventions unveiled in his own lifetime have made a far smaller difference.

Even if we were to accept, for the sake of argument, that technological innovation has truly accelerated, the line ­leading to the singularity would still be nothing but the simple-minded ­extrapolation of an existing pattern. Moore’s Law has been remarkably successful at describing and predicting the development of semiconductors, in part because it has molded that development, ever since the semiconductor manufacturing industry adopted it as its road map and began spending vast sums on R&D to meet its requirements.

there is nothing wrong with the singular simplicity of the singularitarian myth—unless you have something against sloppy reasoning, wishful thinking, and an invitation to irresponsibility.

This is the same point made by Paul Krugman recently. Nordmann points out that most of the major life-changing technological changes of the past 100 years had all already happened by about the 1960s, with the IT revolution of the last fifty years being pretty much the only major source of technological change[1] to impact him over his lifetime.

This arguments suggests that the lifestyle of citizens industrialised countries will remain fairly stable for a lengthy period of time. It raises the serious point that the best we can hope for vis a vis technological change over the next few decades will just be incremental improvements to existing technologies, and greater adoption of technologies by people in poorer countries.

This would be no bad thing of course, but the suggestion that Ray Kurzweil’s revolutions in nanotechnology, genetics, biotechnology, and artifical intelligence may not arrive as early as Kurzweil predicts is pretty disappointing.

It could be that, to paraphrase William Gibson, the future is in fact here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

[1]: By “major source of technological change” I mean things like antibiotics, mass personal transport, and heavier-than-air flight. There certainly have been improvements in all these areas in the last 50 years, and much wider adoption, but these have not had as great an initial impact.

[from IEEE Spectrum, via Slashdot][image from Matthew Clark Photography & Design on flickr]

Wintermute vs. Rachel Rosen

aiHere is a fine exploration of the differences and similarities in the use of artificial intelligences in Philip K. Dick and William Gibson’s writing:

Turing, whose purpose is to prevent AIs from developing too far, mirror the bounty hunters in Androids — the sole purpose of each is to control and destroy rogue intelligences, although in both novels their roles are shown from very different perspectives. In Neuromancer Turing are genuinely afraid of AIs: “You have no care for your species,” one Turing agent says to Case, “for thousands of years men dreamed of pacts with demons”.

Both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Neuromancer portray artificial intelligences as lacking in empathy, but in different ways and for different reasons.

But would a human equivalent AI necessarily be lacking in empathy? Are humans as empathetic as we’d like to believe?

[via this tweet from SciFi Rules][image from agroni on flickr]