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Classic SciFi 5: William Gibson’s Art of Prophecy

In Books, The rest by tony2 Comments

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  10 June 2016

As with my Detective & Crime Series, I began Classic Sci Fi with great ambition. I haven’t got to all of the Classic Scifi that I wanted to write about but I am pleased with what I have achieved.

Inspired by the Neglected Books Page, I have resurrected some neglected or little known excellent Classic SciFi by Daniel F Galouye and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, for example. Fans of Avram Davidson or Ursula Le Guin may be surprised or outraged by my choices. I have perhaps over-emphasised William Gibson. I’ve certainly left out some of my favourite authors or books, such as Heinlein and Dune. And, left out more contemporary authors entirely.

Nevertheless, this idiosyncratic collection and somewhat random selection does showcase some of the best science fiction that is worth preserving and still relevant to us now.

The series is: 1 James Blish: A Case of Conscience 1958; 2 Daniel F Galouye: Dark Universe 1961; 3 Avram Davidson: Rork! 1965; William Gibson, 4 Neuromancer 1984, (an article on his 5 Gibson’s Art of Prophecy), 6 Count Zero 1986 & 7 Mona Lisa Overdrive 1988; 8 Ursula K Le Guin: The Word for World is Forest 1972; 9 Isaac Asimov: I, Robot 1950; 10 Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic 1977.

Also part of the series though not what I would normally call Science Fiction (though Penguin did) is 11 Roy Lewis: Evolution Man 1963, which is one of the funniest books ever written. And, a companion to article 5 is The Art of Prophecy.

Classic SciFi 5: William Gibson’s Art of Prophecy


The articles Classic Scifi 4: William Gibson Neuromancer 1984 and The Art of Prophesy & William Gibson provide a necessary background. The articles to follow on Count Zero 1986 and Mona Lisa Overdrive 1988 will complete the series.

I introduced the Guardian article by Ed Cumming published in 2014 on Neuromancer’s 30th birthday and discussed it a little in the Further information section of Classic Scifi 4: William Gibson Neuromancer.

Cumming’s begins with the truism:

Prescience can be tedious for science-fiction writers. Being proven right about a piece of technology or a trend distracts from the main aim of the work: to show us how we live now.  William Gibson knows this as well as anyone. Since the late 70s, the American-born novelist has been pulling at the loose threads of our culture to imagine what will come out. He has been right about a great deal, but mainly about the shape of the internet and how it filters down to the lowest strata of society.

Neuromancer, early edition

Neuromancer, early edition

I mentioned in the article on Neuromancer 1984 that I disagreed with Cumming on his statement about the Internet. I don’t think the comment encompasses enough. I think that Gibson’s cyberspace is a much larger concept than the Internet is now: the Internet hasn’t evolved enough. Although it is heading in the direction of Gibson’s cyberspace but very slowly. Many battles remain.

Gibson foresaw the importance of hacking and state-based (or corporation-based) stealing of IP secrets and of state preparations for cyber warfare, from very limited information in 1984. Gibson himself says he didn’t predict the world wide web (WWW).

Nevertheless, Cumming gives centrality to cyberspace and he provides alternative views on Gibson’s prophesying thirty years on by two other authors, which gives a good introduction or flavour to the topic of prophecy.

“Neuromancer,” says novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow, “remains a vividly imagined allegory for the world of the 1980s, when the first seeds of massive, globalised wealth-disparity were planted, and when the inchoate rumblings of technological rebellion were first felt. A generation later, we’re living in a future that is both nothing like the Gibson future and instantly recognisable as its less stylish, less romantic cousin. Instead of zaibatsus [large conglomerates] run by faceless salarymen, we have doctrinaire thrusting young neocons and neoliberals who want to treat everything from schools to hospitals as businesses.

I left zaibatsus and the very-rich out of the important concepts in the Neuromancer article, because I didn’t want to confuse those new to Gibson, but I’ll remedy this below and I think Doctorow’s comments are a worthy introduction.

“We have plenty of Booker-type authors who are lauded for their exquisite lyrical realism,” says Ned Beauman, himself a Booker-nominated author. “But, for me, Gibson is better than almost anybody at noticing what’s genuinely interesting about the world. He’s the only living writer who was one of my favourites when I was 13 and is still one of my favourites. In that respect, he’s been deeply influential on me.”

Ned Beauman also offers homage because Gibson holds a mirror up to our world and reveals things that we haven’t thought of, but are more real to us than our own analysis.

Cumming himself nails it in the lovely statement:

Since the late 70s, the American-born novelist has been pulling at the loose threads of our culture to imagine what will come out.

Of course Gibson consciously engaged in prophecy all along. Anything else he says is disingenuous. I like to imagine that he talked frequently with his contemporaries in the so called ‘counter culture movement’ in Canada, with or without leafy enhancement. And, there is evidence in the fiction that he did the same with other science fiction writers with whom he collaborated, about the way he thought the world would develop. It went with his interest in and sometimes shock at the alien culture of Japan, which he uses as a mirror to our own western culture, and with which he is always engaged in his books.

William Gibson’s prescience or prophetic capabilities

Mona Lisa Overdrive, First Edition Hardback UK, 1988

Mona Lisa Overdrive, First Edition Hardback UK, 1988

In The Art of Prophesy & William Gibson I spoke about Michio Kaku’s attempt to draw together his own views and those of 150 other scientists to provide a linear projection of the way science and technology will influence the 21st century. William Gibson doesn’t do that.

I think the best analogy for Gibson is that he sets up an alternative or parallel future that mirrors our own and helps us to understand our future better. He does this in the form of parable (non-religious), analogy and even metaphor, within a finely crafted and coherent fictional scenario that he has built up over years.

The preliminary and sometimes rawer versions of the Neuromancer Trilogy scenario are introduced and explored in the stories in the Burning Chrome Series. For example, the characters of Molly and Hideo appear first in less rounded form in Johnny Mnemonic 1981. Gibson explores the beginnings of Simstim and the mindless Simstim soaps in a technology called ASP (Apparent Sensory Perception) in Fragments of a Hologram Rose 1977. He also mentions that ASP inspired a brief boom in porn theatres and the block-wide fuller domes that decayed as quickly as the holography did.

In the New Rose Hotel 1984 the protagonist is hiding in a coffin rack or capsule hotel in Singapore (reminiscent of where Molly and Case meet in Neuromancer) in a vain attempt to hide from the Hosaka zaibatsu or multinational conglomerate. This grim story of the executive recruitment of a technical genius from Maas Biolabs GmbH to Hosaka is the beginning of the idea of stealing or actually getting a researcher who wants to leave from one multinational to another. Maas and Hosaka and other seemingly known multinationals move from stories to novels. Only Gibson could make executive recruitment into a life and death struggle.


Cyberspace or the matrix (also conceptualised somewhat differently in the movies of that name) is a consensual hallucination experienced by millions. One jacks into cyberspace by a trode (dermatrode across the forehead) or other means. What one sees is a three-dimensional array of coloured geometric objects of different size that may represent government or corporate data entities. The Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority for example is a scarlet pyramid; Mitsubishi Bank of America a green cube. If you break into them you see three-dimensional representations of data. Higher up in the the general illusion of cyberspace are the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond [Case’s or any cowboy’s] reach.

Another analogy is that the cyberspace matrix is a drastic simplification of the human sensorium. Hackers break into these using keyboard commands, which is perhaps an anachronism.

Refer to the quotations either in Classic Scifi 4: William Gibson Neuromancer 1984 under the same heading, or reproduced below in Further Information. The first description of the matrix or cyberspace fully-formed with the cowboy jockey Bobby Quine, ICE and military icebreakers is in the story Burning Chrome 1982.

Molly Brazilian Cover

Molly Brazilian Cover

Gibson’s 1984 vision of cyberspace is more complicated and he gives various insights into it, especially once one gets onto hacking, ICE and military icebreakers. However, the basic description above and the quotations mentioned in the Neuromancer article are sufficient for discussion.

To put Gibson in context with the development of Internet technology:

  • In 1984 the ARPANET and email had been around for a while: in the military email dates from the early 1970s and in educational institutions from the later 1970s, but they were not widely known elsewhere.
  • In 1983 I owned my first personal computer an Osborne. It had a five-inch screen, looked like a sewing machine in its case and had a word processor and one killer application — the spreadsheet. It was one of the first usable PCs not just a thing for tinkerers. The company went defunct in 1985.
  • The Apple II came out in 1977 but was more a tinkerers toy than a practical computer. The Apple IIe the first usable machine for applications came out in 1983. The original Apple MacIntosh was released in 1984. The MacIntosh SE again the first really practical users machine was released in 1987.
  • Microsoft began in 1975, but didn’t really take off until a few years later. Microsoft began to dominate the corporate market from 1992-1995. Microsoft released its first Windows operating system in late 1985, but Windows didn’t really work well as a GUI (Graphical User Interface) until Windows 3.0 in 1990.
  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN was the inventor of the world wide web (WWW) which was put online in 1991.
  • The Internet really began working in Australia in 1996. Although as mentioned below most Australian sites in 1996 could be labeled construction sites.
  • The Apple iphone 1, the first smart phone, didn’t arrive until 2007. Apple’s fortunes had risen earlier with the Apple Ipod and virtually taking over the music industry in 2003, while the music industry thought Napster was the real threat.

In 2016 tablets and smart phones seem here forever, but may equally disappear in a few years. The era of the ubiquitous computer, talked about for years, i.e. any device you use is a computer, seems almost upon us.

How does Gibson’s vision stack up? The Internet has not yet become cyberspace. Cyberspace or the matrix still seems many years away, but the technology keeps accelerating.

Word processing wasn’t novel with the advent of the PC. The one killer application was the spreadsheet. Similarly, much on the Internet is only an extension of the past. The World Wide Web first showed the possibility of something else. Similarly, Search (Google), social media (Facebook etc.), Wikipedia. Apps and probably many I’ve missed are the new killer applications. This is what acceleration looks like.

Currently, the Internet appears to be evolving towards a cyberspace type future, but many forces: governments, criminals and some global corporations, are competing to potentially derail the process.

Cyberspace after 32 years does not seem dated and offers a useful mirror to current reality.


We don’t yet have ICE (intrusion countermeasures electronics) protecting organisations, nor black ICE that kills (made by AIs), but nor do we yet have fully functioning AIs. Indeed on the government and corporate side in the USA and around the world defences against hackers until very recently were abysmal.

The remainder of this section skims across some quite complex issues. Skip if you find it difficult.


The development of good Internet security was compromised in part by the US government in the 1990s and the trend has continued. The US government wanted backdoors in software such as Microsoft Windows and hardware such as networking equipment. (Bill 266 in the US Senate 1991 was a non-binding encouragement for industry to come to the party.) The purpose was for the gathering of intelligence by the NSA and CIA, and also to provide privileged access for law enforcement to emerging technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones.

Burning Chrome, First UK Edition, 1986

Burning Chrome, First UK Edition, 1986

RSA a public key encryption system was developed at MIT in 1983 with Federal Funding by grants. It was the most major advance in cryptography since the developments in code breaking at Bletchley Park during World War II. (One reason for the British GCHQ being reluctant to reveal some Bletchley Park work into the late 1980s). The US Government wanted to keep such powerful encryption as RSA for itself and embargoed its release to other countries.

Philip Zimmermann an activist took a great personal risk in developing PGP based on RSA in 1991 (Pretty Good Privacy — inspired by Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery) and making it available to the world against the strong wishes of the US government. The US government began a criminal investigation against Zimmermann in 1993, which eventually came to nothing. But, because the distribution of PGP electronically overseas might be illegal, Zimmermann and MIT published the source code of PGP3 as a book, which was distributed widely overseas and let Pandora out of the box. The public never took up PGP or encryption, because it is complicated. This changed recently when Apple made encryption the default option on new iphones to the great dismay of the US government.

More recently, Apple was taken to court by the US government via the FBI to force it to develop software to unencrypt the iphone of a terrorist, despite the fact that this would make all Apple iphones open to the US government. Other major industry companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and many others in the industry supported Apple. The court case went away, when supposedly the FBI worked out a way to break into the iphone.

This tension between the tech industry and the US government on these issues is growing. Although US companies tend to be parochial, there is a definite possibility that some of these companies may have to threaten to move their headquarters offshore, to maintain credibility and customers outside the USA.

Private & State-based hacking

From the 1990s and certainly in the twenty-first century the NSA and the CIA in the USA, and GCHQ in the UK have gone rogue to a large extent. We might have suspected this but never truly known, if not for Edward Snowden. A chilling aspect to this outlined in Last Days of Osama bin Laden 3: The Killing was that the CIA was quite happy with the US government Torture Report because it didn’t prosecute CIA agents or curtail the CIA’s activities.

While the US government was trying to control security on the Internet for its own purposes, other governments, such as Russia and China, were learning to hack as a means of stealing state secrets and intellectual property.

Private hackers and shady dealers in the last twenty years have moved quickly from experimental and nuisance exploits to major criminal enterprises. The secrecy involved through corporations and governments hiding the extent of these criminal endeavours, means that we only have a limited ability to assess the damage caused. At least in the USA, large corporations are forced by law to announce major breaches of data security and to detail what has been lost. In Australia and many other countries there is no such breach legislation.

State-based hacking & cyberwarfare

The era of cyberwarfare has also begun, examples are:

1 The 2007 Estonian attacks which virtually shut down Estonia for a few days (Russia?).

2 The Stuxnet virus (identified 2010), which disabled centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program (USA, Israel?).

3 The China People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Unit 61398 based in Shanghai has been stealing government secrets and intellectual property (IP) quite blatantly through hacking, as have other government and private groups in China. China has also been stealing secrets from the USA for three decades (e.g. its nuclear progam in the 1980s) and other secrets and IP in the 1990s by more conventional means than hacking.

4 The Conficker Worm in 2008. Mark Bowden Worm: the first digital war 2011 wrote a bad but rather disturbing book about this virus and the group of civilians in the USA who countered it, without being able to interest the US bureaucracy until the very end. Conficker had extremely sophisticated characteristics like Stuxnet, but didn’t do anything despite taking over millions of machines worldwide and appearing to concentrate on 1 April 2009. Nothing happened. In the end it looked more like an experiment for the future.

5 China hacks Australia. In 2013 China hacked plans for the new headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). In December 2015 China placed Trojans in one of two sets of supercomputers used by all government agencies and other organisations. This breach could only be resolved by scrapping the hardware, which the Australian Government said was too expensive. The Australian Government still does not take the threat of cyberwarfare seriously (see Further Information).


Neuromancer, my copy

Neuromancer, my copy

I have gone on about this because the nature of hacking and cybersecurity are essential to Gibson’s cyberspace and he has given immense thought to the issues.

The main bastion of cybersecurity in the present is the password. There is talk of replacing passwords with biometrics, but this is a nonsense for general use. Cybersecurity needs to evolve and it will tend to go down pathways, which if not on the same track as Gibson, will perhaps be recognisable in a Gibsonian mirror.

I think Gibson is spot on with his descriptions of Console cowboys, cyber jockeys, ICE and military icebreakers. Although, we are not far along the way, as yet. The ideas truly mirror the history of non-state based hacking to date and where it seems to be going. Gibson’s descriptions of cyberwarfare, military icebreakers and the whole development of ICE and black ICE mirrors the dark side of our current reality, and where we need to go if the Internet is to survive. The collapse of the Internet or of cyberspace would certainly trigger a new Dark Age, an idea neither we nor Gibson have wanted to contemplate.

The whole concept of ICE (even black ICE made by AIs) and a future, at least, of much more serious protection of government and organisational data is essential for a better Internet. I suspect the future will be more black hat than white hat. The ability of state-based military industrial complexes to break that data mirrors the future as well. Again we have Edward Snowden and the free press to thank for our knowledge of the current status quo, because governments and the corporate sector have no interest in telling us. Although the developments may not exactly resemble Gibson, I suspect that Gibson will give us insights into what is happening when it happens.

AIs & Dixie Flatline

AIs (Artificial Intelligences)

To some extent AIs (Artificial Intelligences) and what they mean underly the whole Neuromancer Trilogy, particularly the first two books. This backgrounding by Gibson is almost as important, but not as surprising as his prescience on cyberspace and cybersecurity. The idea of AIs and what they mean for the future was big in 1984 even though the technology was still primitive. Partly it all comes back to the Turing test developed by Alan Turing in 1950, of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour, equivalent to or indistinguishable from, that of a human, which defines AI.

In Count Zero when Lucas and Bobby meet with the Finn. The Finn talks about when things changed in the last seven or eight years, which refers to the end of Neuromancer. ‘The new jockeys, they make deals with things, don’t they. Lucas?’ he says.

Gibson in Count Zero cleverly introduces voodoo and the voodoo Gods as a metaphor for these changes, which makes Lucas, Beauvoir and his friends able to deal with the new reality quite well. Because they believe in the Gods.

When it changed, relates to when the AIs broke free of the restrictions placed on them by the Turing Cops.

Although AIs don’t quite exist as yet, they appear not that far off in 2016. Although, we may be wrong about this! Expert systems in a limited sense, the precursor to AIs, didn’t develop as quickly as anticipated in the 1980s.

Dixie Flatline & becoming immortal

Nevertheless, Ray Kurzweil born in 1948, an American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist, believes in intelligent and independent AIs. He has written books on health, artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism and the technological singularity. Kurzweil is wealthy and respected in the techno community, not necessarily regarded as a nutter. Kurzweil believes that the technological singularity, that is, intelligent AIs in control of their own destiny, is just around the corner. Transhumanism is post-human development related to this.

As an aside to the Dixie Flatline ROM in Neuromancer, Kurzweil and some of his friends are trying to remain healthy enough on special diets to survive long enough to be downloaded into ‘Cybersapce’ at the coming of the ‘Singularity’. It is somewhat ironic that Dixie in Neuromancer begs Case to erase him at the end of the task.

A final word

The current debate in 2016 has been sidetracked from concerns about AIs, because of the rise of drone warfare. In Western society, we are becoming more reluctant to expend our youth as soldiers, because the public is becoming less tolerant. The next step therefore is to develop killer robots to send in their place. Some respected commentators and opinion leaders in technology are currently very concerned about this potential trend and are speaking out against it. Whether they will have any influence is debatable.

Warfare, government, politics & Turing Cops

It is interesting, but not that relevant that Gibson mentions warfare but doesn’t give much detail and doesn’t appear interested in exploring the concepts. He also is talking about cold war conflict between the USA and Russia and doesn’t mention China at all. Similarly he doesn’t mention government or politics, except for the Turing cops. The Turing cops are presumably government and have the unenvious task of restricting the intelligence of AIs, in an otherwise uncontrolled world.

The lack of mention of government may be because it is not relevant to the story, or perhaps that government is virtually irrelevant to future history, as presaged by many science fiction writers. We don’t know! However, the idea that multinational corporations or conglomerates may be beyond the nation-state’s capacity to influence was certainly a current topic in 1984.

Zaibatsus & executive recruitment practices

Count Zero, My Copy

Count Zero, My Copy

In the Introduction Doctorow said:

Instead of zaibatsus [large conglomerates] run by faceless salarymen, we have doctrinaire thrusting young neocons and neoliberals who want to treat everything from schools to hospitals as businesses.

He’s part right and part wrong. He also mentions that the seeds of the massive wealth disparity began in the 1980s and that we are stuck with the less stylish and less romantic corporate cousins of Gibson.

Nevertheless, we have seen the rise of massive world beating corporations from nothing. Browsers were initially important but who remembers Netscape, killed off by Microsoft Explorer (now only important in Korea). Chrome, Firefox or Safari are no longer important in their own right. Microsoft may be failing and Yahoo definitely is. Yet, Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook are amongst the world’s biggest corporations. The zaibatsu or corporate conglomerates are alive and well as envisaged by Gibson. They are still of the less stylish and romantic variety, but may well develop along paths envisaged by Gibson.

Similarly executive recruitment or poaching of techno-geniuses has not yet developed to the Gibson model, as exemplified by Turner in Count Zero, but there are indications that we may be moving slowly towards such a future. Although it is unlikely that recruitment of key geniuses or corporate poaching will ever to be as glamorous or Raiders of the Lost Ark in style, as it is in Gibson’s Trilogy.

The very rich

Similarly Gibson only touches on the very rich or private rather than corporate wealth. What he has to say, however, cuts close to the bone of the present day massive increase in mega-wealth.

The Tessier-Ashpool family company that ends up on Straylight in Neuromancer and Lady 3Jane who reappears in Mona Lisa Overdrive is one horrible example.

But, Josef Virek who only appears in simulacrum because he has been confined to a vat in a hideous industrial suburb of Stockholm, because of some runaway cellular disease, is the ultimate literary example, perhaps like Hannibal Lecter.

Marly nails it with her brilliant Gibsonian insight:

And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.

BAMA, The Sprawl

William Gibson’s introduction of BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis is not that new in science fiction. The decaying fuller domes and the weather patterns and rain created by the urban landscape are not new either. In the biography section of Classic Scifi 4: William Gibson Neuromancer, you may remember that Gibson was devastated by the new film Blade Runner while he was writing Neuromancer, which he thought would kill off his novel. He was right in the sense of landscape because Blade Runner does it so well. Nevertheless, Gibson’s urban landscapes in the Neuromancer Trilogy are extremely vivid and well done over the course of the novels, but they aren’t as ground breaking or prophetic as the other areas under discussion.

Black clinics, body augmentation & medical tourism

Beauty & its twin

Some would argue that the type of medicine portrayed in Neuromancer and the two other novels is extreme, as is the extreme body augmentation displayed by the Panther Moderns. However, I would argue that the trends are well-underway and developing exactly in the direction Gibson indicated.

The first necessary step was the rise of the culture of the celebrity, which may have had its beginnings in the 1980s, but has grown into a form of a monster since. Gibson’s parallel predictions of people trying to look more beautiful or to be like their favourite celebrity by cosmetic surgery, and the alternative of tattooing and less attractive body augmentation, are also well-established. Relatively unattractive body jewellery, manipulation of ears and other body features and body sculpturing to resemble animals, to name a few aren’t uncommon. It is hard not to imagine a Gibsonian future in this direction.

Johnny Mnemonic Screenplay, 1996

Johnny Mnemonic Screenplay, 1996

Black & white medicine, medical tourism

Similarly, though we don’t have black clinics, as yet, trends are occurring. China’s nasty organ harvesting of young healthy Falun Gong in the 1990s may have ceased, but the harvesting of organs illegally is a world-wide growth industry and only one example of the growth in ‘black medicine’. In more conventional medicine the trends have progressed even further.

In the West the price of medicine has increased so much that governments are having trouble coping. Hospital systems are breaking down and elective surgery lists are growing in many countries.

Certainly many young Australians and Europeans are flocking to Thailand for cosmetic surgery. In the USA, Brazil and Mexico seem to be the main destinations. Medical tourism for elective surgery other than cosmetic is also growing. I’ve had all of my dentistry done in Chiang Mai in recent years. Estimates are not reliable, as the bureaucrats haven’t caught up. For example, the CDC says 750,000 Americans were medical tourists and another site 1.25 million (in 2014).

The rise of world-class private hospitals in weird places like Albania and outlying parts of China, run by Western doctors is also a growing trend, as medicine in the West either becomes prohibitively expensive or too restrictive. The rapid growth in the trade of unapproved pharmaceuticals over the Internet is another related phenomenon.

These trends are precursors to the development of black clinics, routine trade in illegal organs, drugs and procedures, some of them perhaps leading edge. White clinics in overseas countries may also practice types of medicine that are illegal in other countries. One wonders in what direction these trends will continue.


William Gibson’s Simstim is alluring. I for one would love to experience being inside Tally Isham’s body briefly, even for a relatively boring conversation on a Greek Island. I suppose one would get used to it too quickly.

In 2016, the media around the world is in a state of transition. Newspapers are disappearing in most Western countries, but not in India. But, Internet news is unable to attract sufficient paying customers. The advertising industry has rapidly adapted to the Internet, but not necessarily that successfully. The music industry has gone through a major transformation. Film has virtually disappeared but the movie industry doesn’t know where it is going. Similarly the means of viewing television and general entertainment in the home is transforming rapidly, but no-one seems to understand the direction. This is crucially important to large media companies and there are likely to be huge losers and huge winners. I remember only a few years ago Sony Corporation was banking on 3D TV as its pathway to future profit. 3D TV didn’t excite the public, but Sony still exists.

William Gibson’s Simstim is an attractive future, even the soaps. Hopefully, we’ll move to a more benign future with the media though that is hardly guaranteed. Perhaps as Cory Doctorow thinks of Gibson’s zaibatsus that Simstim may mirror a far less stylish and romantic media future for us down-the-track.


I’ve enjoyed this journey into William Gibson’s prophecy. I hope I haven’t made it too complicated. I think I’ve shown that Gibson’s abilities for prescience are unique and justify my statements in The art of prophecy.

Gibson’s prophecies on cyberspace, hacking, computer security and cyberwarfare are a helpful mirror on 2016 and will be into the future. His parallel predictions of the rise of celebrities, of people trying to look like their favourite celebrity by cosmetic surgery; and the alternative of tattooing and less attractive body augmentation are well-established. It will be interesting to see how the trend develops.

Gibson’s idea of future medicine is not unlikely. The idea of black and white clinics and of medical tourism is happening. Even though these trends have not enters mainstream consciousness. It will be interesting to see if they continue to follow a Gibsonian path, or veer into realms of the unexpected; and perhaps much bleaker futures.

Similarly, trends in the new media are quite complex. We can see that things are happening in 2016, but it is difficult to predict what direction they will go in. Something like Gibson’s Simstim may happen, but there are also many worse possibilities.

I hope I am around long enough to see how things turn out. I look forward to the 50th anniversary of Neuromancer.

Key Words: William Gibson, Neuromancer, Burning Chrome, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrivezaibatsus,  the very-rich, culture, prescience, Cumming, Doctorow, Beauman, prophecy, Internet, cyberspace, the matrix, consensual hallucination, dermatrode, trode, cyberwarfare, Bobby Quine, ICE, intrusion countermeasures electronics, military icebreakers, ARPANET, email, Osborne computer, spreadsheet, killer application, PC, Apple II, Apple IIe, Apple MacIntosh, MacIntosh SE, Microsoft,Microsoft Windows, operating system, GUI, Graphical User Interface, Tim Berners-Lee, CERN, world wide web, WWW, Apple iphone, Ipod, Ipad, tablet, smart phone, ubiquitous computer, AI, artificial intelligence, hacker, cybersecurity, cryptography, Internet security, backdoors, trapdoors, Bill 266 in the US Senate, RSA, public key encryption, NSA, CIA, GCHQ, Bletchley Park, Philip Zimmermann, activist, PGP, Pretty Good Privacy, Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery, State-based hacking, Edward Snowden, US government Torture Report, state secrets, intellectual property, IP, major criminal enterprises, data security, breach legislation, 2007 Estonian attacks, Stuxnet virus, PLA Unit 61398, Conficker Worm, Mark Bowden, password, biometrics, console cowboy, cyber jockey, black ICE, black hat, white hat, state-based military industrial complex, Turing test, Alan Turing, Lucas, Bobby Newmark, the Finn, voodoo Gods, Turing Cops, Expert Systems, Dixie Flatline, becoming immortal, Ray Kurzweil, technological singularity, transhumanism, drone warfare, killer robots, zaibatsu, large conglomerate, multinational corporation, executive recruitment, corporate poaching, Netscape, Microsoft Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Yahoo, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, the very rich, Tessier-Ashpool, Josef Virek, Marly, BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis, fuller domes, Blade Runner, black, clinics, body augmentation, medical tourism, organ harvesting, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery, Simstim, media, advertising, movie industry, music industry

Mona Lisa Overdrive, First Edition Hardback US, 1988

Mona Lisa Overdrive, My Copy

Further Information


Ed Cumming William Gibson: the man who saw tomorrow The Guardian, 28 July 2014, celebrating Neuromancer being 30 years old.

Cory Doctorow

The Guardian Cory Doctorow profile

Cory Doctorow Website

Ned Beauman

Wikipedia Basics

Ned Beauman website

Beauman’s Blog

Ned Beauman expands his views on Gibson in a long interview in 2014 to promote the book Peripheral


ARPANET and email


Wikipedia on Email

Net history on email up to military usage

Osborne computer 1981 – 1985

Osborne computer

Osborne Computer Corporation

Apple II 1977, 1983 (IIe) to 1993

Apple II

Apple Macintosh 1984, 1987 (SE), 1989 (SE/30), 1998 (iMac), 2004 (iMac G5)


Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows History

Apple Ipod, Itunes & The Music Industry

Apple’s timeline of Ipod History

Wikipedia article on the Ipod

Steve Knopper Appetite for SelfDestruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age 2009. A wonderfully readable history of the music industry from 1983 to 2007, of how the music industry self-destructed and how Steve Jobs took it over.

Apple iphone

Apple iphone History


Apple iPad


Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee was the inventor of the World Wide Web which was put online in 1991. By the mid-1980s the global Internet began to proliferate in Europe, email began earlier in the 1970s and Ray Tomlinson a contractor to ARPANET is credited with inventing email in 1972. By 1974 there were hundreds of military users and it was in wide use in educatonal institutions before the development of the Internet.

I remember meeting a friend in Nong Khai in early 1996 when Denise and I were returning from a year in Thailand, India, Pakistan and Burma. When asked what had happened in Australia in 1995 he said the Internet. I got onto the Internet painfully in early 1996 in Australia and remember that most sites in Australia then were what was called construction sites.

Voice recognition

In 1984 in a meeting with someone who appeared to understand how technology was developing, I asked how long ‘voice recognition’ was off. He said five years. It still hasn’t arrived fully in 2016. there are still too many issues despite Apple’s Siri software. Perhaps not too long away, though it may not seem that relevant when it does arrive.

Quotations on important Gibson concepts

Cyberspace — the matrix, a consensual hallucination

“The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,” said the voice-over, “in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.” On the Sony, a two-dimensional space war faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spatial possibilities of logarithmic spirals — cold blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire control circuits of tanks and war planes. “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity.

Case jacking into the matrix using derms or trodes, for the first time since his operation: And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distance less home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity. Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond his reach. 

Console cowboys and cyber jockeys — skilled hackers. They have superb skills in manouvering through the matrix and using expensive civilian and military software to break through walls of ICE and into the corporate databases.

Case: He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. A thief he’d worked for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems, opening windows into rich fields of data.

ICE — intrusion countermeasures electronics (often made by AI’s). ICE is the stuff used to protect corporate data cores from hackers. Black ICE is the stuff that will kill you if you make a mistake.

Simstim — is the entertainment of the masses, like a cowboy’s deck you jack in but simstim is passive. Tally Isham is the current major simstim star and if you load a Tally Isham simstim recording you jack into her sensorium and feel as she does, even her body. The implications for porn are limitless (very like Internet porn today). Simstim also comes in the form of ‘soaps’. Imagine the Bold and the Beautiful, it would be fascinating to see whether they actually feel plastic inside — the transition to simstim would be a bit like the transition from silent movies, many wouldn’t make the cut.

Case: Cowboys didn’t get into Simstim, he thought, because it was basically a meat toy. He knew that the trodes he used and the little plastic tiara dangling from a Simstim deck were basically the same, and that the cyberspace matrix was actually a drastic simplification of the human sensorium, at least in terms of presentation, but Simstim itself struck him as a gratuitous multiplication of flesh input. The commercial stuff was edited, of course, so that if Tally Isham got a headache in the course of a segment, you didn’t feel it.

Case becomes a rider of Molly some of the time because of the job, they are already lovers, so that it isn’t so intrusive: The glasses didn’t seem to cut down the sunlight at all. He wondered if the built-in amps compensated automatically. Blue alphanumerics the time, low in her left peripheral field. Showing off, he thought. Her body language was disorienting, her style foreign. She seemed continually on the verge of colliding with someone, but people melted out of her way, stepped sideways, made room.

“How you doing, Case?” He heard the words and felt her form them. She slid a hand into her jacket, a fingertip circling a nipple under warm silk. The sensation made him catch his breath. She laughed. But the link was one-way. He had no way to reply.



The background to the ‘trapdoor’ part in Bill 266 in the US Senate 1991 as explained in testimony by Phil Zimmermann

Huawei Technologies

Wikipedia on Huawei Technologies

One reason for suspicion in the USA and for others of us who are paranoid about Internet security is that the Chinese company is becoming one of the largest network hardware suppliers outside of the USA. Backdoors or ‘trap doors’ built into hardware are virtually impossible to detect.

RSA History

Wikipedia on RSA

RSA was developed by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Len Adleman. It is a public key cryptography algorithm, which if used properly makes it enormously difficult, even impossible to break if the key is long enough. That is, until quantum computers become commonplace.

Wikipedia on public key cryptography


Wikipedia on PGP

Other information

Author’s preface to the book

State-based hacking and cyberwarfare


Attacks on Estonia

These had no real purpose other than an experiment.


Wikipedia on Stuxnet

This is really interesting an attack on specific machinery within a specific program. It destroyed a large number of centrifuges and set back Iran’s nuclear program by many months.

China’s Army hacker unit 61398 & others

Wikipedia on unit 61398

Wikipedia preliminary account of cyber warfare in China

Includes hacking of ASIO Headquarters Plans in Australia in 2013

List of hacker groups

List of hacker groups

Conficker Worm

Wikipedia on Conficker

Brief update reports on Conficker

Conficker 7 years on 2015

Computer World 2015


Another better written book than Mark Bowden’s on Conficker but similarly depressing is Joseph Menn Fatal System Error 2010. It is about investigation by the authorities in the USA and the UK of cybercrime originating from Russia and the US Mafia. The authorities have had better success in recent years with the closing down of The Silk Road and a few other criminal activities but they are still tilting at windmills.

China hacking Australia

In May 2013, ABC News Australia, revealed that China had that China hacked plans for the new headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

In December 2015, ABC News Australia, revealed that China had placed Trojans in the Bureau of Meteorology’s supercomputers one of two sets, used by all government and other organisations in Australia and that the government couldn’t afford to replace the hardware, the only way to get rid of them. The government surprisingly confirmed this in April 2016 while announcing a $230 million cybersecurity strategy.

The Conversation online on 25 April 2016 wrote an article entitled Australia still doesn’t see cyber attack as the menace our allies fear, noting that the US is now spending $24 billion and the UK $3 billion on the problem.

I wrote a letter to the newspaper about this reproduced at the end.

Private Hacking

Attacks are too numerous to document but the List of Hacking above. Also useful are:

Wikipedia’s history of Hacking Timeline

Wikipedia’s Hacker Culture

The Chart on the world’s biggest data breaches. This is a great resource as you can click on each circle and get a brief summary, as well as a link to the original reporting. You can also break the complex chart down into categories.

A reader involved contacted me and recommended Comparitech as another good site on the biggest data breaches in history.

The 2003 Report PDF by The Georgia Institute of Technology is good for the early history of hacking up to 2000. Mentions William Gibson.

The link no longer works find A brief history of hacking by zuley clarke, james clawson, maria cordell The Georgia Institute of Technology 2003

Another interesting Report shows the other side of the coin: Kim Zetter Everything We Know about How the FBI Hacks People Wired Magazine, May 2016. This is an excellent article on what the FBI has been up to in the past.

Current new outrage: 7 June 2016: Calgary Herald Online: The University of Calgary paid a $20,000 ransom in untraceable Bitcoins to shadowy hackers after a devastating malware attack.


Wikipedia on Biometrics

10 Reasons Why Biometrics won’t replace passwords any time soon

AIs and Dixie Flatline

Turing Test

AIs and expert systems

Wikipedia on AIs

Wikipedia on Expert Systems

Medical Tourism

Wikipedia on Medical Tourism

Patients beyond borders Statistics

Numbers of Americans

CDC 750,000 (2015?)

Health Tourism 1,25 million in 2014

Best five countries for medical tourism

N Lunt et al OECD Scoping review on medical tourism (2011?) PDF

Letter to The Canberra Times

I’ve had two letters to the paper published in the past year or so. I don’t do it often as I consider it a futile exercise. However, my friend Rukmini upbraded me over this.

I said : I don’t know why I bother! It’s about as futile as attending a demonstration. Just a chance for a rant.

She said: My experience is that regular rants and attendance at demonstrations do make a difference but it takes years so keep going. Look at how Telangana state was formed, and though one  Narmada dam was built many are stopped and people received better compensation.

2 May 2016 Canberra Times Letters Cybersecurity

 The Canberra Times, 2 May 2016

Cybersecurity Systems behind the times, vulnerable to attack

On December 2, 2015, the ABC announced that China had been blamed for a major cyber attack on the supercomputers at the Bureau of Meteorology, which had compromised sensitive systems across the federal bureaucracy because all of government is linked to these computers and uses them. The following day, the ABC said the only solution was to replace the computers but that the government couldn’t afford the several hundred million dollars.

On April 21, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, unveiling a $230 million cyber security strategy, confirmed the 2015 attack and announced that the Commonwealth had the ability to launch cyber attacks as well. On April 25, the Conversation website noted that Australia still doesn’t see cyber attack as the menace our allies fear, noting that the US is spending $24 billion and Britain $3 billion on the problem. Australia is very far behind other countries on becoming cyber alert.

Yet on April 26, the Turnbull Government also announced a $50 billion contract to build 12 submarines, a project supposedly bigger than the Snowy Mountains Scheme in government hyperbole.

The government doesn’t seem to comprehend that at some time in the future the Trojans in Australia’s supercomputers could be used by a cyber opponent to close the nation down. That is, cease banking, electricity, water, food and logistics supplies, government services, all communications etc.

Australia doesn’t understand that militarily the world has changed. On the day the nation is shut down the Commanders of the new submarines may get communications through secret channels from HQJOC, but will they be able to trust them?

Tony Stewart




    1. Author

      Thanks Peggy, it did seem to go on after I started, but I did know most of the tech and the cybersecurity history already.

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