Science Fiction is the soul of technology. From Jules Verne and the moon landing to Ray Bradbury and the quest for life on Mars; from the Command and Control capabilities on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise to the predictive analytics of the movie Minority Report, science fiction has envisioned, informed and inspired the future of technology. Cyberspace is no different, and the visionary here is the author William Gibson. Gibson is credited with coining the term “cyberspace” in his 1982 short story, Burning Chrome, almost ten years before the birth of the World Wide Web. You can get a sense of his writing style from the original definition of cyberspace:
“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. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”
His body of work continues to this day to be one of the most influential descriptions of the future of cyberspace, and the cultural and social impact on its human inhabitants, along one potential arc of the future. Maybe the most influential of these is the 1984 book Neuromancer, which has been a strong influence in propelling many techies in the direction of cybersecurity. One of the best set of passages is his description of a cyberattack from the point of view of the hackers, “jacked in” and seeking to breach a major Corporate database…a collection of those snippets is below. Gibson is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like this style or genre, the soul of cyberspace is to be found in William Gibson’s writing.
A little context first. When the book was written in 1984, the first personal computers had just been introduced to the market; the World Wide Web was a decade in the future. China had just emerged from the cultural revolution, and would not become a serious threat for another 20 years. In this composite of snippets, the visualization of cyberspace is represented as architectural features of various colors, and “ice” is the set of software network defenses. Oh, and don’t miss the references to the matrix, since this is the source of the movie’s name as well as many of its attributes.
“Cyberspace, as the deck presented it, had no particular relationship with the deck’s physical whereabouts. When Case jacked in, he opened his eyes to the familiar configuration of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority’s Aztec pyramid of data…The matrix showed him the pink spheres of the steel combine in Sikkim…’That’s it, huh? Big green rectangle off left?’ ‘You got it. Corporate core data for Tessier-Ashpool S.A., and that ice is generated by their two friendly AI’s. On par with anything in the military sector, looks to me…black as the grave and slick as glass. Fry your brain soon as look at you…You don’t want to see what that Chinese program can do?…The Chinese virus was unfolding around them. Polychrome shadow, countless translucent layers shifting and recombining. Protean, enormous, it towered above them, blotting out the void…Headlong motion through walls of emerald green, milky jade, the sensation of speed beyond anything he’d known before in cyberspace…The Tessier-Ashpool ice shattered, peeling away from the Chinese program’s thrust, a worrying impression of solid fluidity, as though the shards of a broken mirror bent and elongated as they fell – …The program dived past the gleaming spires of a dozen identical towers of data, each one a blue neon replica of the Manhattan skyscraper. ‘You ever see resolution this high’ Case asked. ‘No, but I never cracked an AI, either.’ “