Source: Wired

Hardwired Cityscape at Night

Author Paolo Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) gives a short essay on why he feels cyberpunk was sci-fi’s saviour in the 80’s.

One man’s opinion. Last week Wired posted an essay in its Underwire section by a writer who felt that cyberpunk saved the science fiction genre in the 80s. Paolo Bacigalupi, a science fiction author himself, explains that sci-fi at the time was spinning its wheels in a deep ditch, how it lost touch with humanity and technology, and how it needed a solid bitch-slap. Cyberpunk was that bitch-slap… followed with a nasty pimp-slap:

Cyberpunk felt urgent. It wasn’t the future 15 minutes out—it was the future sideswiping you and leaving you in a full-body cast as it passed by.

It was a desperately needed course correction. Science fiction had lost the thread of reality. Human beings weren’t going to the moon; we were going digital. Someone needed to grab the genre by the lapels and yank it around—force writers to look at the present moment and decipher its implications.

Considering events of the time would help understand why the Rocket-and-Moon-Colony set was a failure when the 80s came around.

 

May the Force be Irrelevant. As 1979 gave way to 1980, the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) was three years old and wouldn’t be available for home viewing for another two years, while Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back would be released mid-year, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture was only one month in theaters. Battlestar Galactica would get new life as Galactica 1980 and would trade laser fire with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It seemed like the 80s would be a golden age of starfighter-space operas.

But the technology wasn’t keeping pace, going in its own direction and taking humanity with it.

Even though the space shuttle was taking flight, humanity wasn’t going to outer space. Only in video games were we able to blast off this planet and live out those Luke Skywalker-wannabe fantasies. Instead of Martians and robots invading our homes, computers were, by invitation, while robots were a couple of decades away. And we forgot about outer space for cyberspace.

 

The Future calls collect. Who accepted the charges? The space opera fare was starting to become lame. Computers were becoming commonplace while space travel was becoming stale. 80s sci-fi was exactly like grandpa’s sci-fi, and Gen-X was hating it. They wanted it to mirror what technology was like.

Enter: William Gibson. In 1981, he wrote a short story called “The Gernsback Continuum” about a photographer who finds himself in a 1930’s idea of the future… and hating it. The story showed how that idea of the future was obsolete and incompatible with the early 80s reality. Others heard the call and answered.

Blade Runner would be the bitch slap. Ridley Scott’s view of a gritty future of corporate gods lording over imperfect humans would be an inspiration for cyberpunks to come, including Gibson himself. Although when Gibson was writing Neuromancer he saw Blade Runner and almost abandoned it fearing that he would be accused of copying the movie. Instead, the book became the pimp-slap that would chance sci-fi for some time to come.

While the book and movie were considered ground-breaking, they were far from “immaculate conception.” Check out our Proto-Cyberpunk Media category for some examples of pre-1980s inspirations.

 

A new call for the next “Gernsback Continuum.” Cyberpunk has come a long way since those heady underground days of the 80s, but now the world has changed considerably since and a new call for the next generation sci-fi writer:

Just as when we were on the cusp of cyberpunk and didn’t know it, I’m hoping now for another new breed of writers, people who can craft drive-by speculations that leave us gasping with surprise. Those kinds of writers don’t just see the future; they see the present.

For a sub-genre that gave us such “punk” subsets like steam-, bio-, and dieselpunk, cyberpunk may again rise to the occasion.

 

Imagine if “Star Wars” was reimagined as cyberpunk instead of space opera. Sillof did it for his custom action figures (click the pic to see more).

This post has been filed under Internet Find, Essays by Mr. Roboto.

Source: Reuters

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Companies are calling for more active responses to hack attacks, because tinfoil hats are very poor firewalls.

More proof that our present is a cyberpunk future. Reuters reports that companies, frustrated with outdated laws against sophisticated hacking attacks, are now looking for more “active” forms of defense against hackers. Not content with react-and-repair plans, they are now looking for offensive responses:

Known in the cybersecurity industry as “active defense” or “strike-back” technology, the reprisals range from modest steps to distract and delay a hacker to more controversial measures. Security experts say they even know of some cases where companies have taken action that could violate laws in the United States or other countries, such as hiring contractors to hack the assailant’s own systems.

One such “contractor” is CrowdStrike, a “A Stealth-mode Security Start-up” that offer services such as “an on-demand retainer service that empowers your enterprise through experienced and professional tactical response teams” (what some may call “mercenaries”). They can also use more common tactics like honeypots (fake files to keep an intruder’s attention while he’s being traced).

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One group seems to already have “active defense” in operation.

 

A slippery slope. With such security breaches becoming more commonplace, it would seem that an escalation in hacking countermeasures was inevitable. But such escalation is not without risks:

Henry (Shawn Henry, the former head of cybercrime investigations at the FBI who in April joined CrowdStrike) and CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovich do not recommend that companies try to breach their opponent’s computers, but they say the private sector does need to fight back more boldly against cyber espionage.

Of course, that fight-back mentality can lead to mercenary groups who can go world-wide to track and “neutralize” a hacker with a “fuck your laws” mentality.

Other security experts say a more aggressive posture is unlikely to have a significant impact in the near term in the overall fight against cybercriminals and Internet espionage. Veteran government and private officials warn that much of the activity is too risky to make sense, citing the chances for escalation and collateral damage.

 

Who’s really to blame? Hackers are getting more aggressive with their attacks and more silent with their invasions, but are they the bored teen in his/her bedroom looking for lulz, or other corporations and governments looking for an advantage? To underscore the real threat, an example of the recently discovered to be American/Israeli made Flame rootkit is cited as a major failure:

Mikko Hypponen, the well-regarded chief research officer at Finland’s F-Secure Oyj, told the Reuters Summit his company had a sample of Flame in 2010 and classified it as clean and later missed another virus called Duqu that was suspected of being backed by Western governments.

“These are examples how we are failing” as an industry, Hypponen said. “Consumer-grade antivirus you buy from the store does not work too well trying to detect stuff created by the nation-states with nation-state budgets.”

Because some national governments are suspected in attacks on private Western companies, it is natural that some of the victims want to join their own governments to fight back.

Armed responses from corporate militias are more of a colorful afterthought for now, but with the Pentagon wanting to use military force on hackers and recent reports of Obama wanting to use drones for domestic surveillance, corporate militias may not be that far off.

This post has been filed under HackZ AttackZ!, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Source: Nature Communications and Phys.org via Engadget.

Swedish researchers have developed an integrated circuit that runs on chemicals as opposed to electronics. The countdown to human assimilation has begun.

First the transistor, then the chip. When the first semiconductor transistor was developed in late 1947, there was no idea how important it would be in the creation of today’s technology. Someone from Sweden must have a clue since he has now developed an IC chip that uses chemicals instead of electronics. The IC is built upon logic gates based on ion transistors first developed in 2009. Now begins further development into more complex chips.

 

Why chemicals? Why not? For starters, the human body is not electronic. There’s electricity at work (mostly in the nerves), but humans run mostly on chemicals, so the use of a chemical chip has obvious advantages:

(from Phys.org) “We can, for example, send out signals to muscle synapses where the signalling system may not work for some reason. We know our chip works with common signalling substances, for example acetylcholine,” says Magnus Berggren, Professor of Organic Electronics and leader of the research group.

This could be used to bypass damaged nerves to control muscles directly, but this is only one possibility. Such chem-chips can be used for any type of signaling and control. Example: An artificial pancreas can have such a chip that monitors blood-sugar levels, then signals another chip to make insulin as needed.

 

The Next Step… With a basic circuit done, more complex circuitry can now be developed. That would include elements such as ion inverters and NAND gates… and memristors? Could happen. Then from there…

Locutus of Borg

This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

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