If the world is made of narratives, the best way to forecast our future is to understand which stories are influencing our thinking and technological imagination. By looking at prominent sci-fi pieces, we introduce the last of four interactive maps which present a comparative analysis that showcase the connection between fictional technologies and current scientific research.
In order to conclude our expedition, this visualization brings Neuromancer, the first book of William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy, and its cybernetic technologies. This novel was responsible for bringing the cyberpunk literary genre mainstream, and it is considered one of the most inspiring and honored science fiction literary pieces of contemporaneity.
A combination of the words cybernetic + punk, this genre’s approach is a futuristic world where technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and space travel have become commonplace amidst economic and social havoc. With millions of copies sold around the world, Gibson's unique writing style popularized the term "cyberspace", coined by himself, as his book addresses a dystopian cybernetic future, constantly revisited until present day.
Envisioning's research team and a selection of curated specialists in sci-fi and futurism carefully dissected the book and found 29 technologies, assessing each of them using NASA's Technology Readiness Level (TRL). By matching the sci-fi with patents, academic sources and scientific magazines we were able to understand the intersection between the imaginative and scientific fact. From 1 (the lowest level of technology maturation) to 9 (technology is already being fixed and incorporated into new systems). Our interactive visualization allows you to navigate between technologies, understanding the current state and its parallel with the movie counterpart. Their position on their map reflects their level of readiness.
Science fiction writer Margaret Atwood once said that sci-fi is not about the future, but really about the present. What Gibson describes in Neuromancer is an exaggeration of the rising trends in the 80s: the increasing Japanese soft power as its brands and pop culture are assimilated in the West; the development of cybernetic technologies and the internet; subcultural groups such as hackers, goths and punks acting as a critical, youth resistance against the Cold War status quo.
All these incidents lead William Gibson to the portrayal of a nihilistic future when people struggle to survive and technology is the norm alongside economic disparity. Our protagonist, Case, is a suicidal console cowboy that finds purpose in a job that offers more than simply credits, but body cybernetic upgrades and ultimately his salvation.
In this projected globalized future, corporations are mega-scaled and the government is simply another puppet entangling its strings with the people left to die. In this extreme capitalist society, technology dictates power but also leads to resistance. And through Gibson’s poetic writing style, readers are invited to visualize the net as a holographic construction and society as an agglomeration of role players: from console cowboys to street samurais; everybody is trying to survive and get their best cut from the corporate system.
Cyberpunk as a genre inaugurated the concept of “high tech low life,” meaning that the future holds both advanced technologies and economic disparity. Inspired by nihilism and the punk subcultural attitude, authors such as William Gibson created a vision of the future with more pessimistic tones: although the same technologies could be used to solve social problems, they could also be exploited by corporations as a means to ensure their superiority and control.
With a unique style to describe and visualize globalized cities illuminated by neon lights reflected in leather jackets and mirrorshades, Gibson seduces the reader by making them fall for the appealing aesthetics of his universe, although its dystopian essence is never hidden.
In the real world, artificially intelligent systems develop, cryogenics advance and neuro-implants are tested. By comparing Neuromancer’s narrative and the reality we live in, it is clear enough to see that the showcased examples of how these emergent technologies could evolve when manipulated, foreshadows an imminent reality if we continue to maintain the same economic interests we have nowadays.
As Neuromancer is both full of action and cool visuals, alongside Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, it has opened up a new appreciation for decay and the urgency to understand the impacts of technology in a society where corporations took the lead and the streets demand an eye for an eye.
As disruption first appears as an idea, science fiction narratives have the power to stir inspiration and organize thoughts. After comparing outstanding sci-fi works and the actual state of development of these once speculative technologies, Envisioning’s team arrived to a conclusion also enforced by authors such as Yuval Noah Harari: science fiction is one of the most important genres in contemporary times, but since technology is not destiny, all these narratives help us think about what to do now in order to build desirable futures.
Envisioning is a virtual research institute. We provide technological foresight to policy and decision makers worldwide. Our global team of academics, hackers and designers study technology to understand accelerating change. We share our work with our own tools, methodology and design. › envisioning.io