How Cyberpunk Saved Science Fiction

June 25, 2012

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.

Hacked companies fight back with controversial steps (Reuters)

June 20, 2012

Source: Reuters

make-love-not-warcraft.jpg

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.

The first chemical circuit developed – RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!

June 3, 2012

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.

Robots, Men, and Sex Toruism: How Robot Prostitutes Can Change Sex Tourism.

May 5, 2012

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A recent paper takes us to a future of robotic sex in Amsterdam and explains how it can change sex tourism.

Remember: It’s only science fiction because it hasn’t happened yet.

Futuristic Sex Robotz. The idea of sex with robots isn’t new, it’s been around since some German boy fapped to the gynoid from Metropolis. Hajime Sorayama’s drawings have been fueling such fantasies since the 1970’s. And all the sci-fi movies, shows, comics, and animations since have given us glimpses into robotic futures. Now, the latest issue of Futures journal (V 44, I 4, May 2012) has an article that describes a fictional club in Amsterdam that caters to robo-fetishists in 2050.

Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars of the University of Wellington’s Victoria Management School create a hypothetical robo-brothel not only to show how it can be possible, but to show how it can alter how the sex trade operates in Amsterdam, and potentially world-wide. The Futures journal is available for download from Science Direct, but it’s behind a paywall. I was hoping it would be shared by now, but fortunately io9 quotes a few paragraphs about the club, its services, and the advantages to meat-based bordellos.

 

Welcome to the Yub-Yum Club!

(from io9) The Yub-Yum is Amsterdam’s top sex club for business travellers located beside a 17th century canal house on the Singel. It is modern and gleaming with about 100 scantily clad blonde and brunettes parading around in exotic G-strings and lingerie. Entry costs s10,000 for an all inclusive service. The club offers a full range of sexual services from massages, lap dancing and intercourse in plush surroundings. The Yub-Yum is a unique bordello licensed by the city council, staffed not by humans but by androids. This situation came about due to an increase in human trafficking in the sex industry in the 2040s which was becoming unsustainable, combined with an increase in incurable STI’s in the city especially HIV which over the last decade has mutated and is resistant to many vaccines and preventive medicines.

The Yub-Yum offers a range of sexual gods and goddesses of different ethnicities, body shapes, ages, languages and sexual features.

The most popular model is Irina, a tall, blonde, Russian exotic species who is popular with Middle Eastern businessmen. The tourists who use the services of Yub-Yum are guaranteed a wonderful and thrilling experience, as all the androids are programmed to perform every service and satisfy every desire. All androids are made of bacteria resistant fibre and are flushed for human fluids, therefore guaranteeing no Sexual Transmitted Disease’s are transferred between consumers. The impact of Yub-Yum club and similar establishments in Amsterdam has transformed the sex industry alleviating all health and human trafficking problems. The only social issues surrounding the club is the resistance from human sex workers who say they can’t compete on price and quality, therefore forcing many of them to close their shop windows. All in all, the regeneration of Amsterdam’s sex industry has been about the success of the new breed of sex worker. Even clients feel guilt free as they actually haven’t had sex with a real person and therefore don’t have to lie to their partner.

Sounds like fun, but that 10K price tag may force many back to the meat-houses which may sustain the trafficking and diseases, or unlicensed robo-bordellos where the sexbots may not be as “clean” as hoped. And let us not forget about robot rights becoming the new civil-rights battlefield.

The concept is still about forty years away, but sex robots are already here…

Sex Robots now available for your enjoyment.

Source: TrueCompanion.com, Phys.org

I originally blogged this a couple of years ago, only for spammers to ruin it before any mirroring or archiving could be done. So here’s take two…

Roxxxy TrueCompanion is a sex robot that debuted at the 2010 Adult Entertainment Expo by Douglas Hines. She can be purchased at the TrueCompanion website (where a male version, Rocky) for $1,000 US (actually less right now, she’s on sale). She has an articulated skeleton, though it cannot move by itself, the proper “ports,” and even options for skin/hair/eye color. She also comes with five personalities that range from wild to frigid. The idea for the personalities came from the September 11 attacks:

“I had a friend who passed away in 9/11,” Hines said. “I promised myself I would create a program to store his personality, and that became the foundation for Roxxxy True Companion.”

That was two years ago, and this video shows a rather unusual… um, “bug”… that resulted from that personality. Hopefully it’s been corrected since then, otherwise….

Murphy… It’s you!
This post has been filed under Internet Find, Cyberpunked living by Mr. Roboto.

Ultrawired: Dope Stars, Inc.

April 2, 2012

Music Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2011

Artist: Dope Stars, Inc.

Written by: Victor Love

Label: N/A

Download / order from DSI’s site

Ultrawired

Ultrawired – Pirate Ketaware for the TLC Generation

Track Listing:

1. Better not to joke – 3:51
2. Save the clock tower – 4:01
3. Cracking the power – 3:05
4. Banksters – 2:44
5. Lies Irae – 3:35
6. Blackout – 3:23
7. Get young – 4:10
8. No life belongs to you – 4:02
9. Two dimensional world – 4:08
10. Run motherfucker run – 2:51
11. Pwning the network – 3:44
12. We are the new ones – 4:09
13. Riding Ufos – 4:04
14. Thru the never – 4:54


Overview: DSI’s latest takes the path that Radiohead started, and Nine Inch Nails followed. Ultrawired was made available from the band’s site via torrent and file sharing, with physical purchase and PayPal donation options available. Seems appropriate for a band known for its cyberpunk sound and themes with images of underground hackers and other wired warriors working against the corporations.

More than that, this is a salute to the birth-era of cyberpunk and those inspired and motivated by those heady 80s technologies. From the press release:

An album inspired by the 80’s and early 90’s imagery, icons, idols and attitude. A shiny manifesto for the generation who lived in the era of technolgical revolutions. Starting from the arcade maniacs, and Back to the future followers till the social networks addicts and wikileaks rebels. The music will be a cocktail of sounds that mix the modern and futuristic approach of Dope Stars Inc. with the sounds and atmospheres of the 80’s & early 90’s music. Breaking any stylistic rule: Hard-techno, Rockabilly, Indie-electro, Punk-Metal, Retro-games music, Synth-Pop and Rock’n’Roll are just a few of the influences embodied in the new album. No way to put it into a precise category. A set of 13 (14, actually) songs made of different individual souls.

Better not to joke. We want the music for the rich and poor / hey you cannot block it anytime, so says this salute to file sharing, kicking off the ass-kicking with a solid beat.

Save the clock tower. There should be little doubt what this tune honors. Starting off with an electronic riff before rocking out, this track would have Doc Brown cranking the volume in his DeLorian while traveling the skyways.

Cracking the power. A warning to those who seek to silence the voices on the web, DSI is ready to fight back with this number. After all, We’re a mass of geeks ready to fuck you. You have been warned.

Banksters. Ironically, for a track that came before the Occupy movement, they seem to have the idea of what to do with the banksters (Shoot the bastard). This track has a speed/thrash feel to it.

Lies Irae. Giving props to WikiLeaks and their supporters (Gonna be the leak of this age), this track opens with an operatic tone before the ass-kicking starts with symphonic hits following throughout.

Blackout. You think Victor Love may have heard about reports of hackers causing blackouts? Sounds like it on this track.

Get young. For you old-school video gamers (arcade vets like myself), this one may have you dusting off your old Atari 2600 or booting up MAME to relive those memories of your nth key Pac-Man patterns. You modern console-jocks may not understand it now, but you’ll figure it out… if you haven’t already. Videogames make you feel, just make you feel good. Needless to say, this is my pick.

No life belongs to you. The message is fairly simple; Nothing new yet another rich fight for the oil and the human rights. Humanity has been treated like a commodity like petrol, but the corporations are going to learn otherwise.

Two dimensional world. A slower paced tune about… Facebook? It seems to be about Facebook, or possibly about some bloggers out there. Backup your tracks / backup your face / who gives a fuck of the crap that you say. Might be a good thing I haven’t fallen for FB’s hype.

Run motherfucker run. The Running Man in music form. You got a stalker in the back of your brain / you’re in a fucking TV battle game.

Pwning the network. A little hacking action going on, I can tell I’m gonna get some lulz today. The pace is a little fast for my liking though.

We are the new ones. Another declaration of youthful rebellion, featuring Mario Savio’s “Bodies upon the gears” speech. Kind of catchy, even for this old fart.

Riding Ufos. A slower paced tune about the want of knowing what others know and are trying to keep secret (we want a rich and global existence / give us the knowledge of your world), and of changing their minds about their wrong ideas (shame on you / to keep all this nonsense / now you can not swear / let it be now or a fleet/ /is gonna take down your beliefs).

Thru the never. About as close to a power ballad as I’ve heard from DSI, an invitation for self-introspection (Take a night to know yourself / take a night to know your thoughts / just to ride a dream) and a chance to let the hope be back into your soul. Just what the cyber-doctor ordered.

 

Conclusion: DSI has been putting out some good cyber-rock since their formation in 2002. Ultrawired keeps that streak going with a Ketaware selling-strategy that the RIAA needs to take note of. Based on this CD, DSI has the ability to be around for some time.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Music by Mr. Roboto.