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Cyberpunk is dead? (cultdeadcow.com)
60 points by rl1987 on Apr 5, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

This piece reads awfully. I haven't seen anything like this since trying to understand inscrutable postmodernist literary criticism at college.

I am very interested in this, but I'm having a lot of trouble understanding it. What's he trying to say?

Todays market of representations means that we exchange images that are valued by statements without consequence, statements whose only value is the one of attention, something we have learned from the advertising process, which has become the key process of culture. This cultural praxis fails to find a history of the human faces. The faces tried to break the boundaries of word and image, they were processes of conscious creation of speaking images for the feelings that words fail to describe.

I have to confess, I've got a sort of fondness for this writing style. It's got a certain rythm that makes everything seem more... impactful than it really is.

edit: of course, what I meant to say was:

While aesthetically confusing on a surface level, the subcurrent of ryhtmic tonality in these disquisitions impacts the reader's thought process in subliminal ways. Hitherto the paragon of collegiate studies, these textual discourses nowadays propagate freely in the super-plebeian fantasy-made-reality cyber-utopia that is the infosphere. The parentally linked-to hypertext is a two-fold example of not only the skillfull mastery of the avant-poetic style, but also the post-print arrangement common in todays socioeconomic conditions.

Congratulations, I have not read text like that since my philosophy courses in college.

You need to break apart the statements and translate it into normal english. If you enjoy this stuff, I recommend reading some philosophy texts from your local university.

> Todays market of representations means that we exchange images that are valued by statements without consequence, statements whose only value is the one of attention, something we have learned from the advertising process, which has become the key process of culture.

Our current culture communicates and understands ideas in the form of sound bites. This is because advertisements have become important in shaping our culture.

> This cultural praxis fails to find a history of the human faces. The faces tried to break the boundaries of word and image, they were processes of conscious creation of speaking images for the feelings that words fail to describe.

We are trying to find a new way to communicate but we are failing at it and becoming irrelevant. (I might be losing something in the translation here.)


EdiX's comment "I interpret it as 'kids this days like them lolcats'" is right on target. It captures the angst of the writer bemoaning the loss of culture of our current generation.

On another note, I find this snippet to be strangely ironic. It complains about a failure to redefine the way we communicate. The writer is attempting to precisely define their ideas in language that reminds me of a lawyer trying to write a bulletproof contract. The end result is nearly impenetrable and risks losing the entire message because no one can understand it.

I interpret it as "kids this days like them lolcats".

I have a hunch this was written by a non-native English speaker (see the quote usage near the beginning).

Anyway, I think he's saying that our faces, which allow us to communicate without words (the last sentence of your quote), are now nothing more than static images/advertisements (e.g., profile pictures). Communication on social networks has been reduced to using advertising techniques to gain attention.

The problem with cyberpunk is that it's no longer the future, it's the present. Sometimes when I read the news I've got the idea we're kind of living in a dystopian 90's cyberpunk future...

When it's the new normal it makes sense that the word is "dead" as a denominator.

My thoughts exactly. I don't mean to threadjack, but I'm running a new startup where I'm building augmented reality displays ( http://gothameyewear.com/ if anyone is interested -- haven't posted it here before, simply because there's not much there), and I occasionally have that "well shit, it's the future" realization in working on it. We may not be in the 2011 of Shadowrun, but we'll have decks soon -- they'll be our smartphones.

I am a college student looking to do research on wearable computers and interface designs for this kind of device. Looking for interns?

I'd love to bring on an intern or two, but honestly we're just not there yet. I'm currently funding everything out of pocket, before we seek funding. There will definitely be such opportunities in the (hopefully near!) future, though.

Fair enough. :) This fall I am going to be doing a project about integrating a neural interface (Emotive Epoc) with a wearable in hopes of a hands free interface that is easy to use. This is a technology I want to make the concentration of my research, there are a lot of techniques we need to find about how to present data to users effectively in a AR situation and how to choose what data to present from very large data sets (think Google goggles and map overlays as starting points) and I want to make that the focus of my graduate research. This is a bit of Sifi I want to help make real.

Awesome! I spent some time hacking the Epoc last year (which culminated in the Emokit project) and had a lot of fun with it. So much potential there.

Good luck with everything.

My god, I needed this exact thing rather badly right now. The Emotive Beta Linux SDK is looking hard to work with and does not give access to this kind of data. Thank you for making it!

This guy has a history of "starting" things and never finishing him. You'd be better off finding someone with a more stable history of finishing what they started. And when I say history, I mean he's into the double digits of "startups" he's initiated.

I have started a massive number of projects, but of the startups I've founded, every single one of them has released a product. Of the projects, I have probably a 40% finish rate overall, which isn't half bad IMO, considering that those are projects like creating new OSes, independently recreating the Win32 API, etc.

So no, I don't have a perfect history, but it's pretty good considering the scale at which I've worked.

Edit: Fwiw, I've only started 3 companies, not including this one. Not that many, considering a 6 year time span.

Is it better to have started double digit startups than to have not started anything?

Your snide comment seems to go totally against the idea that we should fail quickly and often.

Out of curiosity, not knowing anything of the subject of your scorn -- why are these multitudes of start-stops an issue?

Maybe this intern, who's academic path is in-line with the premise of his startup - are just the thing he needs to have this one be the one.


Or are you a friend of his teasing him?

> Or are you a friend of his teasing him?

He was an early supporter of my Alky project (see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1018290 ), who's still apparently bummed that it was killed.

There's a difference between a flake, and moving between things that obviously aren't going to work.

Nothing ever gets shipped from him, nothing failed quickly to begin with. ( I don't just mean Alky, either. )

Stop parroting community tropes.




https://github.com/daeken/RenrakuOS - 2010

https://github.com/daeken/EveInject - 2009

Quote from his blog:


What have you built and what are you building?

Product-wise, I haven't built much; the biggest thing I've built was Alky, which allowed the conversion of Win32 binaries to run natively on OS X and Linux. It was a marginal success, although it ended up failing later for business reasons.

These days, I'm working on a few things:

Renraku: http://daeken.com/renraku-future-os This will eventually be combined with OpenBAMF/IREctive: Reverse-engineering platform and module store (My primary for-profit project right now)


The Emulator's Handbook: A book on building an emulator from start to finish. There's simply nothing there yet, which is a damn shame -- we need to get people involved here.

So far unnamed: A book on reverse-engineering game protocols and emulating them.

In the future, I'd like to be developing and selling Eyetaps and other hardware around Renraku.


This isn't fail-fast, it's ship-nothing. It only bothers me because he keeps attention-whoring for every little idea he gets and ends up disappointing anybody who thought it was cool.

In the time since then, I've released a complete hotel front desk system and several lock forensics tools; in fact, it's quite possible that you've stayed in a hotel powered by my company's products. I've also released an open source library for talking to the Emotiv Epoc headset, libraries for dealing with the Belkin Network USB Hub, and several security tools.

As for EveInject, it had some bugs, but worked beautifully -- in fact, people are shipping code based on it to this day.

If you want to see a dozen failed projects of mine, I can show them to you. I can also show you many successful ones.

That's a lot of vitriol there.

To be honest I'm quite impressed with his projects. They're certainly non-trivial and exciting things. Can you show something better?

He didn't see all of them to the end. Who did? Does uploading something to github mean that you have to maintain it up until eternity? There's a lot of "flakes" on github (and HN) in that case....

Before you go naming and shaming, make sure you have at least a good case.

Cool, you're just looking out for this potential interns interest right?

So, just in the interest of full disclosure - what have you shipped/built/released if, by your own words, this is such a big deal?

Just curious if you're some hyper producing hacker ninjastar or if you just have it out for this particular HNer.

I never made any claims and didn't demand the attention of others, the onus isn't upon me to prove anything if I haven't claimed anything.

If you must know, I'm a software engineer at an early-stage startup in SF.

I know that you're now probably 22, that you were struggling a few years ago because you had to drop out of school and you had very little experience and were seeking some advice. HNers gave you some good advice at the time too, I believe. Did you go back to school?

But, now you're on HN calling a guy out on his projects like some project nazi because you probably think of yourself as really smart, but your more young than smart.

So, it is ok if this guy starts shit and for whatever reason they dont get completed. Keep plugging.

You're statements calling him out defacto call attention to yourself and what you're doing - so I would recommend getting back to work for that startup rather than posting on HN in the middle of the day.

Getting a little personal there don't you think? You should learn some courtesy.

Time to hit the reset button.

I've convinced myself that augmented reality displays are right around the corner. Don't we have the technology to to do this now? I suppose the challenge might be to make everything light and compact enough.

The future is so close I can smell it.

There are two challenges: getting it into a form factor where normal people would wear it (our initial dev units will not be too far off this mark) and getting the price down to something sane. The latter is the really hard part, if you care about quality; the 0.5" 800x600 OLED displays we're using are $800 for a single unit, and don't drop to $400/unit until you hit a volume of 1000+ units. Of course, they'll get cheaper over time, so I'm not terribly worried about it.

Considering the first, I suppose it's best to try and integrate display into ordinary-looking sunglasses. Some work has been done to develop "covert HMD" like that. [1,2]

However, the prototypes don't seem to have solved the problem of inputting vision field video - there is no camera hidden inside the sunglasses as far as I can tell.

[1] Steve Mann - Intelligent Image Processing. [2] http://users.cwnet.com/vvortex3/hmd/

I did a good bit of research into it, but it just doesn't seem to be viable at this point. It's insanely expensive (fiber stuff isn't cheap), and you can't really do AR due to the lack of a camera. Eventually we'll get there, but as of now it's just going to be goggles.

The iPhone/Android device as a kind of handheld augmented reality window is very real and available in a great form factor at a great marginal price (assuming you want the rest of the features of the smart phone to begin with). Still, it's not quite the same as being able to go full on Snow Crash gargoyle.

"... 'm running a new startup where I'm building augmented reality displays ..."

Are they as good as or approach EyeTap (Steve Mann)? ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EyeTap

The tech in use is derived from Eyetap designs. I've been waiting for someone to bring the tech to market for a decade now and decided not to wait anymore.

"... I've been waiting for someone to bring the tech to market for a decade now and decided not to wait anymore. ..."

I wish you the best with this because nobody is commercially doing anything as exciting as Mediated Reality ~ http://eyetap.org/research/eyetap.html

That's exactly Gibsons take on it which is why he wrote a book like Pattern Recognition which interestingly enough is much less dystopian than his first three books.

These days cyberpunk seems to be more about transhumanism and posthumanism ala Charles Stross books "Accellerando" & "Singularity Sky".

Er, no.

Cyberpunk (in written SF) died around the time "Vincent Omniaveritas" folded his zine Cheap Truth in 1986 (which you can find an archive of here: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~erich/cheaptruth/ ) ... by 1992, when Bantam Spectra published Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" it had descended into self-parody (hint: a heroic central character called Hiro Protagonist? Try saying that aloud).

Transhumanism/posthumanism was big in the 1990s -- Vernor Vinge coughed up the hairball that is the singularity in the mid-1980s and Hans Moravec of CMU popularized it and spread the fertile soil for the early 1990s transhumanists, who also hybridized with libertarians and cypherpunks by way of the extropians mailing list circa 1990-95. But again, by the time you get to the late 1990s folks like Ray Kurzweil were bandwagoning on it, and these days that, too, is ancient history.

"Accelerando" was written circa 1998-2003, and "Singularity Sky" -- not its original title, but one dropped on it by the publisher in search of teh sexxy -- in 1996-98. If you're pointing to them as signs of where SF is at, I'll just get my coat -- because SF is dead.

Thats fair enough.

The reason why I wrote what I wrote was that I seem to remember Gibson in an interview himself pointed to some of this stuff as someone who could think further than he could think.

Maybe I misunderstood. Didn't mean to insult your, by the way, great work.

So is it wrong to gush, fanboy-style, on HN?

I loved delicious!

I use the img macro generator all the time!

Yes, the only thing truly missing is the idea of a direct neural interface and some kind of virtual world... but in reality that virtual world will likely never exist outside games.

Why, you ask? Because the main conceit of the cyberpunk virtual world is that it's entirely like reality with the exception that it's more fantastic. But an amazon/itunes search with a quick click to buy is infinitely faster and more convenient than jumping in to a virtual world and 'physically' trying to find something.

Alternate reality is the new future, not virtual reality. We already have a perfectly good reality, so we'll just spice it up.

Given the advances in EEG and other brain scan techs, I believe direct neural interfaces aren't that far away anymore. One step at a time, we'll first have to get used to motion-based interfaces. Neural interfaces will probably be like moving a limb but not actually moving. With such interfaces, there is no reason anymore to restrict to planar screens. Everything can be 3D.

For buying stuff you're right -- just clicking and using an efficient search system is much more efficient. But the market for experiences is another thing.

Many people will disagree with you that we already have a "perfectly good reality". They might desire things they cannot have in life, for example, or want to do things that physics makes impossible in real life (teleportation?). Just imagine the possibilities. As soon as the tech is there, there will be a huge market for it.

And don't forget collaboration over a distance. "telepresence". It's not just for games and fun.

Videoconferencing and telepresence is big business. I expect those applications will lead the way, with the technology being adapted for entertainment purposes soon after.

Yes, I agree here too, telepresence would be a pretty good reason. But even then, that's probably actually less useful than just a videoconferencing system, since you could continue to have your hands/eyes free for other things like taking notes or whatever at the same time.

I don't agree it'll be less useful. Actual telepresence has a lot more possibilities than just a video stream.

You could interact with people in the virtual environment, build or design something together, brainstorm in new ways (For example, imagine architects designing a building while walking in it in realtime), and take notes digitally. Once you can do everything in the virtual "world", you don't need your hands/eyes free for other things.

(and I'm sure there will be a pop-up HUD interface in which you can do other things if you really want to be distracted like browsing HN during a meeting :).

What is the difference, if any, between alternate reality and augmented reality?

As I understand it, an alternate reality doesn't need to correspond with the primary reality (the metaverse, the grid, the matrix, etc) whereas an augmented reality is essentially a HUD type setup for the primary reality.

As far as I can really tell, none. So I kind of use the terms interchangeably. Both are about layering virtual information over top of reality, as far as I know. I guess augmented is the superior term.

Augmented reality is an overlay onto what is truly there.

Alternate reality or Virtual Reality is a simulation of an entirely new universe.

"If I write something set 60 years in the future I am going to have to explain how humanity got there and that's becoming quite a big job," [Gibson] said.

"Compared to that further investigation of our alien present seems actually way more doable and it may be more fun to do because it shakes all sorts of people out of the woodwork that want to talk to me," [Gibson added].


Also, http://www.wired.com/underwire/2010/09/william-gibson-interv...

Interestingly, Gibson's latest book - Pattern Recognition - is set in the present. It's very good.


It's not the same dystopian future he envisioned in the 1990s. But his keen eye draws out the darker sides.

He's written two books since then, Spook Country and Zero History which are also set in the present. I haven't read them but supposedly they constitute a sort of informal trilogy.

I agree that Pattern Recognition is very good. Although I will always have a soft spot for Neuromancer and his related books and stories.

Read those other two - they're as good, if not a little bit better. Nothing stunningly different.

As a long-time neuromancer and Gibson fan, I can say his writing has changed and approached the modern day just as it should. Neuromancer made sense at the time it was published - the net wasn't around, it was a far out concept - lots of room for imagination. If it were only released today, it would just seem like really bad sci-fi because the net exists, now, and it's not quite what Gibson wrote about.

I'd the pattern recognition/spook/zero set are not so much current day as very near-future. They're entirely plausible with current technology, with a few inventions along the way that don't currently exist, but probably could. PLus they're a good read.

I think WG has always said that writing sci fi for him and many SF authors was always really about the present. And if you read Neuromancer again, it really does bear out.

Not dead, just moved. I think the whole bitcoin thing is very cyberpunk-ish. A digital crypto-currency.

Cypherpunkish, more than Neuromancerish. Also, I know a guy who left the US in order to be able to keep gambling online, and a Google executive recently coordinated a peaceful revolution that toppled a 30-year-old dictatorship in Egypt, in 18 days. And there's some debate as to whether or not Iran's efforts to enrich uranium were stymied by a computer worm that destroyed its centrifuges or not, and the world's biggest distributed computers are operated either by the Russian Mafia or by Google, depending on how you measure.

I still see more Rainbows End than Neuromancer in today's internet, but that's hardly surprising; Vinge wrote it considerably later.

Spot on.

Also, browsing pages on Tor and similar networks reminds me a lot of exploring the internet in the early '90s. It's messy, there are lots of abandoned, hastily put together pages. There are weird rants.

The internet that the author misses is still out there. It's just not as close to the surface as it was in the early days of the internet or BBS.

"It's just not as close to the surface as it was in the early days of the internet or BBS."

Precisely. I'll add that today that 'underground' is a very small (yet important, if not critical to its future) part of the whole internet whereas in the early days it was most of it; hence the appearance of it being farther from the surface.

No need to reach for Tor, take HN whose volume is certainly much lower than those Facebook streams and various LOLcats, yet it is certainly pivotal to what's actually built on the internet. The next Facebook won't come from its users, it will come from one of you.

Human-Computer interaction as envisioned is at its peak. Dare you tell me that Second Life, World of Warcraft, or Eve Online are not quite akin to the metaverse that was envisioned in Snowcrash. Tell me that those robotic prosthetic limbs are not close to what you see in Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita in the US). All those eyes, ears, and even memory prosthetic devices (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6574) seen in Ghost in the Shell and Johnny Mnemonic are not dreamt of anymore, they are very real and useful to many (although admittedly they did not reach such levels of advancement, but that's a matter of time). Tell me those efforts to control and monitor everything including the internet "for the safety of everyone and his dog" are not dystopian in many ways, and get a look at how the third and fourth world are manipulating technology in ad-hoc, cheap, creative and dangerous ways to try and follow us in our first-world countries steps.

Of course there is some error correction to apply with regard to what was envisioned before all of that was even remotely possible; it is no wonder that fiction varies from reality.

Cyberpunk lives, for the best and the worst, today.

Cyberpunk got somehow stuck in mirror shades and virtual reality worlds, and then wandered off into the artistic fringe.

There was also very little grasp of programming by the cyberpunk writers that I've read. No understanding of the Cyber part of the Punk. That would have increased its ability to stay relevant.

The article defines punk (in general) as a deviant subculture that parents are afraid of.

Perhaps the general decline of punk can be attributed to modern parents being much less afraid than parents in the 70s. Cyberpunk isn't really exciting when your parents all have iPhones.

I'm not sure why Anonymous does not fit the article's definition.

They do, explicitly:

Contrary to this, CHAN-culture (imageboards, fast communication channels) and the ANON-meme (crowd orientated cyber actions) try different ways in waging real mass-based cyberwars, they reach this point by being more punk again, punk as in: deviant subculture that parents are afraid of.

I read this as saying that Anonymous and 4chan (and friends) have reached the point of being punk again, in that sense.

Between Anonymous and Wikileaks, I feel like we're practically living in a cyberpunk story. We're just the blissfully uninvolved citizens who don't live in the seedy underbelly.

I'm not sure we at Hacker News are blissfully uninvolved; we're busy building tomorrow's sinister megacorporations. Or Mr Lee's Greater Hong Kong.

At what point do you realize what you're building is what your protagonist heros always fought against?

And does that realization make you stop?

I thought the last two paragraphs were delightful and might help explain the recent trend for people to leave HN.

Otherwise, the piece is barely legible.

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