Are Sci-fi authors influencing technology?

Internet DNA Podcast

Science fiction - our favourite topic... not the spaceships stuff but future-fi or cyber-fi - the integration of human's and technology basically. Lots of great books and films, and some really quite interesting thoughts.



Hello and welcome to this week's episode of Internet Dna with me, Abby. This week we're going to discuss Scifi books and how the author's imagination may have impacted technology as we know it. The one that always springs to mind with this for me is William Gibson invented the word Avatar to use in his books for when people were in their virtual world and that's become, I don't know, part of the Oxford dictionary now I can you think of any others like that, Dan, that were just, I wasn't their tablets and things, weren't they out of star trek, something like that.

Yeah, no, I can't think of any off the top of my head, but funny enough, I'm actually rereading Neuromancer as we speak because I think I read it quite young and it's quite interesting to read it now when you're older because I think when you read it, a lot of those things seemed fantastical and now they seem kind of not far away.

Yeah, I'm personally, I think William Gibson has single handedly shaped technologies. We know at everything he said, everything he did is now happening. My favorite book of his was virtual light, but the cyber punk, did he invent cyber punks? Probably. Um, she was this sort of kid on a skateboard. The only thing I'm really upset about is that my absolute favorite author, Neil Stevenson, his book, Snow Crash, if you read snow crash and then you read virtual light, you go, oh, oh they call it seminar, which is a bit of a shame. So I probably shouldn't have read virtual like everything else Neal Stephenson has done is utterly spots on. But the amazing thing about William Gibson is he's still writing, I don't know how old he is. Only a couple of years ago he wrote peripheral, which was all about these people wearing hats takes going into a separate worlds. Uh, what happened there, how it can affect you outside of this sort of thing that is talked about a lot in Saifai now, but he's still so spot on.

And I read one spook country all about how if you will, glasses, three d glasses, you could go around and have a sort of art experience. He didn't have to go to an art gallery. You just see, you know, outside the Viper Club in Los Angeles, there was river Phoenix dead on the street. Someone like to do dead celebrities, but you could go out and have your own art exhibition just to beautiful sculpture in a garden that no one else was seeing. And he called it locomotive art. And again, very cool. I wouldn't be surprised if that hadn't started being called that as well. Sorry, my rant about someone that I think will be recognized as a great in the beginning of this industry that we're in.

I also think the thing about Scifi has potentially a reflection of the future as envisaged by today, if you see what I mean.

Yeah. But today with people, that was incredible foresight. You asked most people they'd go, Oh yeah, well we'll probably, they'll still be talking about flying cars now. That was imagined by Scifi writers 50 60 years ago.

That time, if you think about it, cars and flight were new. And so they will, thinking about what would be the logical extension. So if you go back to the first ever Saifai book,

wait, you're going to tell me again is Frankenstein by my app. I am. Because what she saw

was electricity and the fact that we were making massive gains in the understanding of the human body.

Yes. I mean people were experiment bio science.

Yeah. And so then she took that to its point, which was humans creating another life form and then investigated what that would mean. And actually a lot of Scifi is really about ethics. And it's about it is. So, I mean, the reason why I love Frankenstein is because, especially as a parent,

is the fact that and that you've created a monster, which is only a reflection of what you've been here.

The monster in Frankenstein is not the monster is it? It's actually a very gentle being. It gets turned into a monster by other people rejecting it.

I know. Exactly. And that's what you're liking. Well, in the sense that you can't control another life.

So you bring into life a child of yours and you try and guide it down a path. But because it has its own mind, there's only so much you can do to guide it and it will be subject to the forces of the outside world. And that's why it's an individual human being. And I think that's quite an interesting parallel, I think because Mary Shelley obviously is a woman, she's thinking about that kind of thing as well

that's caught about Frankenstein. Then when was it written? 1850 or something. Not only was it the first high fiber, but it was written by a woman who in the field of science wasn't really recognized or in literature either. So that is very cool.

It was published on the 1st of January, 1818 just to give you an idea of how revolutionary that book was. And so as you go through it, so you go through as him off phase of the rocket and the space exploration because that's something that people are looking to do at that time. And then you get into things where that's more world building where people are trying to imagine cultures.

Okay. The cultures, obviously you love and m banks. Yes. Even calls them cultures and that they're looking at humanity, different races, how we live and how we would live amongst different species. The purpose of it,

human being in a universe where your miles away from being the most intelligent able being and so what is your purpose and how does culture work and how do humans interact or not just humans obviously in the culture how the different races interact given that pretty much everything that they need to do is manage by AI and so they were in a list. Agenda lists a raceless culture because you can change your agenda, you can change your race mostly and you don't have any needs because it's provided for because I think human beings need something and in fact most of the ENM banks are about human trying to find a purpose.

Well that's going to happen isn't it? As AI takes a several says takes my job as as AI gets clever as used my business, it's used more in everything. Health care, production lines, law. Then we are going to have to reestablish what makes us us and it's always been work that has defined us because it's taken up so much of our day, so well in inbox is talking about is going to become a reality

maybe or it may not. We may return to some sort of cyber feudalism where we were effectively

post apocalyptic. I think this is the awesome post apple. No. Are you set post apocalyptic. Thank you.

Saifai does that interesting thing about utopias and dystopias and understanding that they can actually just be two sides of the same coin. For some people it is a utopia and for some people it really isn't, but that's the thing.

The life that seems perfect is always the one that in the end everyone tries to escape from be that you know that's the matrix. That's

also, if you think about that blurring of the line between the virtual and the real, which I think the film is inception where he has a, that has a most favorite movie. He has a weight where he has to spin it because he knows that the very tiny variations are the only thing that he can tell whether it's real or

I'm reading an utterly extraordinary back at the moment, I'd never come across this guy. Uh, the book is called G Naaman with genome Noman and it's by Nick Hark away. And it uses that premise as well that a lot of the time it's about to find out the truth. You have to get into people's brains and going into their brains. It's a bit like dreaming and if you living their life because your inside their head, then you've got to know the difference when you're back in your life. And so she sets up these little tiny things that your brain couldn't do if it was foxing you, I couldn't do in a dream or it couldn't do if it is living at alternative reality. And actually the book is so in depth and it goes to so many different places, I thought possibly it was his life's work, that he'd put it all into one book, but it's not.

It's the second boat. And last night I was just reading a bet and it was talking about this older guy, seeing his granddaughter who's in a very sort of high tech business and shortage and to six computers with the bones, but imagination, ambition and possibility where the blood, and I love that because I'm forever telling people that what we do is not, here you go, it's done. It's the tools and you still need everything on top of that to create whatever it is you want to create. In my job, it might be your brand, it might be your product. You still need all that creativity on top of the bones, the tools and structure of the website. Do

you not saying that we'll be able to get to uh, uh, let's call it a machine sentience that will just understand creativity. We just know, let's say through machine learning, which is basically how we all learn, not through machine learning, but through learning what works and what doesn't work. But it would be almost foolish to imagine that anything a human being can do or does do now won't be reproducible.

I agree. I just thought that was a beautiful, a beautiful sentence. I remember the film that also is everyone's living in a perfect utopia and then they realize it's rather than, I hate it. And they try and get out. And it was the adjustment bureau, which is a Phillip k Dick Burke who of course is another one of my favorite writers. Yeah. So obviously blade runner is what everyone knows. But my favorite one is with the blue cone flowers through a scanner darkly scanner darkly. Yes. Ah, that one is absolutely beautiful. And so act, talking about the whole world has been sedated with these drugs to try and keep humanity to try and keep crime and boredom in check. And it's exactly what's happening now. Everyone is, there's an epidemic of Methadone isn't there? So scanner darkly is exactly what's happening. Now. The other book, the other author, I love that, I always think it's quite spot on as Michael Marshall Smith and he's not very well known, but one of his books, he has a cat called spangle, which I loved him for that.

And I always want to care. I don't want to cap, but if I did, I'd call it spangle be, he wrote a book about organ farming, which basically is going to happen pretty soon. But the people that ran the farms with the insurance company, which was always quite dark, quite sinister, sinister, quite sinister that the insurance companies, and I think didn't Phillip k Dick did many. Yeah, it's not black merit electric dream series. And so they had taken, I think possibly even different directors is all taken. Philip k Dick Short stories in which most of them are and adapt to them and some of them are very interesting.

Yeah. I watched the thing called altered carbon, which I absolutely loved actually.

Yes, I like that as well.

And I really liked the concept about if you could never die or if it was possible to stop yourself from ever dying and how that concentrates wealth and power because they are the people that basically live the longest. And it reminded me a little bit of Jared diamond's collapse where he's talking about the Iceland Vikings or Greenland Vikings, and the book is about how societies collapse and then it goes from like a single reason in the end. One is, is the Greenland Vikings, which is a lot of different reasons why that society collapsed. But I think that one of the last lines, or one of the lines in the final chapter was that the rich, it's reserved themselves, the right to die last, which I thought was really an interesting because almost that's the most terrible thing to be the last people to know that it's coming to know that there is no way out. I just thought it was a really interesting concept and I thought, yeah,

well everyone's going to die in the end. Yeah,

and I think one of the things that is interesting about it at the moment is what will die? Will the human species die? But not because we're all dead, but because we have changed into something else. You know, much like Homo Habilis has died or all the other, you know, Homo Erectus and all of that. They are dead. We say they extinct but they're not really extinct because they've evolved into something else and are we going to evolve in a slightly different way, which is we are going to evolve into a biomechanical or bio electrical or even an abstract didn't actually, it starts to bring up really interesting questions about what is actually life. If are thinking and sentience then does the fact that you're attached and blood and bone, does it matter? Does it matter? Really, and it's one of the things that I always found interesting about the matrix was not the matrix, but how people got to be in the matrix because that would have had to have been, at least at the beginning of voluntary thing. People say, Oh, actually I want to upload myself. I don't want to feel pain. I want to live it up in a virtual world. Before long. You've got to switch over point where suddenly everybody's in that system, but no one lives in the real world. Everyone lives in the virtual reality.

Well, there's the films are good with Bruce Willis, which is exactly that. They are, they're sold, it's advertising, they're sold a better life in that why go out as you, when you can go out as your Avatar, who is the better you and you're more beautiful, more witty, you can't die, you can't have an accident. So everybody goes, Oh yeah, you're thinner, you're taller, you everything you want to be. So everybody goes, Oh yeah, why would I go out as me? And so everybody is at home in their haptic beds projecting themselves back into the world as these avatars, as these virtual people, which is actually what you're saying. And then the system could take over, which is what happens in the matrix and keep you prisoner so you're no longer,

yeah, call them self. A parallel to modern life in many ways, whether this is a virtual reality or not. In reality, it would be indistinguishable from your life. Now, if you think about it, and that's where that interesting thing is, am I in virtual reality or is this real? Is this being controlled? I mean you can get into really dark places if you want to, but what I think is really an interesting concept at the moment is where does humanity end and machinery star. If you're going to say, right, if somebody lives in an amniotic fluid for their entire life jacked into a VR system, what part of human is that? What part of real? What is real? Those are the interesting questions. I think that,

so I think that we will gradually fall into that. I mean one of my favorite books is the Manchurian candidate. That was the film. It wasn't called that. I don't, I think in the book, which I believe is another Neal Stephenson back from basically the president has stroke and as they're putting in help to heal his stroke, they realize that they can make him do things. So the electronics they're putting in his brain to sort of right his language, right, his face. They realize that through those electronics they can make and do things and so they are able to help him win the election by giving him little notifications that talk more on that. People that doing really well and it's very basic that they're giving him little ticks here or something. So it's not far in the future Scifi, but that tiny thing who go a bit further into chips in your head, you know the Google glasses, they start to go in your head, take that a bit further.

You can have larger tips in your head. You have to learn less. You're reliant on this micro brain that is put inside you and it's a bit like wearing glasses. Why would you go back? You couldn't really see before that wearing the glasses you couldn't rarely think can remember before the chip. Why would you go back? And then that goes further and further into that yet, are we human? Are we robot? And then you've got this thing a bit like what's happening at the moment, which I feel really sorry for women with more testosterone than other women in the certain genetic type. That means they're being banned from performing in certain races because they have an advantage.

We have a conversation because sync, it's true that no white man has ever run under 10 seconds and in fact everybody who's run under 10 seconds shares, one gene is a marker for this and then you start saying, well, people who have that during can't run because they run abnormally faster than just see what I mean? It gets you into a really odd place when you start saying, actually we're going to make chemical judgements on you as to your actual

task definition. Yeah, exactly. But that's where the whole technology will go as well. Al as well. You can't end to this because you've got a better brain because it's been enhanced, so we have to create a new category and then suddenly you've got new species. You can see how slowly, slowly catchy monkey as you say.

Yeah, and also the other interesting thing is that technology in a way makes us much more able to converse of that is the removal of that technology actually makes us a lot less able than we used. Like I can remember a phone number anymore when I used to know everybody's phone number just in the top of my head cause I had to, because now I don't remember anyone's phone number. You can probably extrapolate that out into we all buy our food from supermarkets and places and less and less people actually know how to cook. Probably you could look around your life and there'll be maybe one or two people that would actually know how to prepare, let's say to skin a rabbit or to find food in the wild or you know, all the things that literally 60 years ago would have just been general knowledge.

And so I think it's quite interesting that it enables us, but it also disables us at the same time. Does that make sense? It does. And that's what I find really interesting about Scifi or is it, what it does is it looks at all of the things we've been talking about today and tries to project a form of either ethics or morality or, or even not project, but question. What would be the ethics in their situation and what would be the morality of this situation where we've got morals that are based around very fixed ideas of what a human being is and how the world is and how the world reacts to things. When you start

moving it into where a world is programmable and editable, do the things that make things bad in the real world really matter anymore because they have no real effect. If you could just program, you cannot murder. It's not possible. And so suddenly I report. Yeah. Yeah. But that's an interesting question in itself. Every Saifai book always ends with the fact of the perfect world has faults. It has glitches, and actually it's really bad and there's a revolution and it must be overturned because the minority report, he got accused when he hadn't done something. I expect in the book that I'm reading, which is a similar premise in that the system can know whether you've done something good or bad, even the purest and best of systems will have a fault somewhere. And so every single Saifai is about Armageddon. In the same, it named me a book or Psi Phi where they go, oh, it's really lovely. We live in this Utopian University. We're really happy. We're never going to go anywhere else.

Yeah. And then banks, the culture, I mean he doesn't make a judgment on whether the culture is good or bad.

Maybe that's why I find it really boring. And so my question is, or what I was getting

in the culture is that it's run by machines. It's run by AI. So ridiculously more advanced than yourself that there is no human greed involved. There is no power, no one

leads pay that. But humans will be humans. And I wonder if a lot of things in the Scifi books become reality. Oh, we saying that we are marching towards Armageddon. Are we saying that all those technical advancement, do you think it is going to make a better world or do you think it will make our perceived better world and they're, in the end we'll go back to analog anti technology because it wasn't a better, well, because humans will be humans and they need greed and they need envy and they need the seven deadly sins. They need to feel alive, I guess is the thing. I don't know, but I wonder if all these science fiction books are actually trying to tell us something really big and we're just ignoring it a much in towards the 10

no, I think that it makes a good story.

Yeah. Normally me that's doom. Exactly.

In a Western analog where we have this idea of good and evil, I would bet you that if you were in a more eastern or Asian officers wouldn't have quite such this construct of the good and the evil, which is a very, to my mind, a very western construct.

Oh, I don't know. I read the most, I cried about four times. Seriously sobbed through this beautiful Saifai but there was such in Iran and everyone just died the whole way. Yeah, I'm sure they were trying to upload this guy to this computer system. It was so beautifully written, but they were trying to upload, hit the computer system because his wife had been run over his, somebody else had done something and then he got cancer and was going to die and he wants to be there for is really young son. He died and didn't happen either. I don't know if that's any better.

Yeah, and that probably comes out of a culture where you feel powerless. I don't think that the future will be that different in absolute terms. There will be winners, there will be losers, power concentrates, money concentrates and that just is the way it is. And until you can supersede those human emotions, and that's what the culture explorers, which is if you remove that into machines that are automatically just adjusting the world to be the best it can possibly be and all of human emotions are dealt with in their own little micro sagas and they don't actually effect the world. At large that much. Then that is an interesting concept because suddenly you remove all this evil man at the top. You know, trying to control the minions, but I think that that currently is very much something that we talk about because a lot of people feel that in their life that they are manipulated into a world that they had no choice. They have the illusion of choice, they have the illusion of power, but actually nothing they do or say really has any real effect and I think that's why a lot of science fiction books, contemporary expounds that feeling to us because it's kind of how we feel.

You think that that just mimicking the field of humanity as it is at the moment? Yeah. There's two things I wanted to say in response to what you said though. One, you said, I don't think the future's going to change much. It's not going to change much for you because you are going to carry on doing things in a similar sort of way. I'm probably not the cup, but for somebody else when you are 90 this is the way they live. It's not going to be on your radar and so you're not going to know that the world has changed

and that's what I mean by in absolute terms, so yes, life will massively change. One of the things I'm really interested in at the moment, for example, is autonomous cars because really what does that mean? Once your car stops being something that you need to drive and it just becomes a space that can move from one location to location, you can start to say, well, you can have a meeting room on wheels. Hey, people don't need to own their cars anymore. You can be really flexible about how you manage that. Plus you can start to think about how much rope do we really need and it starts to say, well actually you could change very much. You could live in effectively a mobile home because the fact you close your door and it turns up at somewhere else,

they go on a tour bus really brings into question the whole point of belonging or living because actually if you just going to be on the road, why did you actually need to get that? If I were you going there to begin with and if you don't need to go there then

oh and why'd you have to live anywhere? Why don't you just live wherever you want it. Like today, I want to live by the seat tomorrow I want to go to the mountain sides. I can work from anywhere

cause I think humans, they're not all nomadic. Some summer, sometimes a nomadic, but I think you'd find that even if you could live anywhere, you'd go and live by the beach and then you'd feel you wanted to stay by the beach and

you want to stay with your friends. But if your friends were all mobile and you'd say, hey guys, why don't we go and then you'd just go, we're very locked into a mentality of I live in a place that is somewhere, but one of the things that that kind of technology might do is move that and say, actually, one can live anywhere. Why would you live somewhere that you don't want to live today? You might want to live there tomorrow. What I'm trying to say is even that simple thing, driverless cars opens up a whole world of changing how you live, but in absolute terms of do you feel your life is of any value? Do you feel have any control over your life? Do you feel that you have enough, whatever the currency is, those things, the actual human things of how do you feel about yourself in an existential way? I don't think really change. I don't think they've probably changed from Millennia. I think people feel pretty much similar, probably more isolated maybe. But in general the things that actually make humans happy are still the same things that always made them happy, which is family and friends and everything else is just window dressing.

I think family and friends and environment actually.

Okay, I'll give you environment

and therefore if you're saying that your environment should change the whole time with that lack of control, lack of being off balance.

So your happiness around move around as a tribe, which is, let's be honest, our evolved state, I think we have been taught to place value on place and that's not to say we don't know that there's a lovely place by a river with some trees. It's a lovely to be in the summer, but in the winter it's a shit hole so we don't want to be there and the and just show what I mean, which is what nomads did. This is a great hunting ground at this time of year and it's lovely and we like living here and now we're going to move to the next place. I don't know if they thought it was lovely, they probably thought it was necessary, but

it brings a whole new meaning to the word digital nomads doesn't. Yes, it's the whole world becomes digital nomads all sailing around and there's no point having cars anymore. You just got houses on wheels so the roads would get huge. Did you just really sort of sailing around in these houses? Just a mobile space. On that happy note. I was going to end on a really sad note, but I think that we should end on a happy note and say goodbye unless you want me to tell you the sad note.

No, let's say it's a sad note for next week.

Oh, I'll never remember. I'll tell you the sad note. One of the books I've read inherit the earth. The rich people obviously said rates. They had learned how to solve the problem of dying. They had become immortal, but therefore with that became the power and the money so they could get rich there and obviously they had more knowledge, but they didn't want young people coming in, taking away from them because of course they're never going to die. So they couldn't have more and more people. So they stopped people having babies so that they could always stay in control. So that wasn't the machines. That was the greed of cumins. Let's go back to digital nomads and the village houses on wheels.

Well, actually I think the mortality is another one of these things that will change us. And I'm not talking about immortality like God. Like you can't be killed, but the fact that you let say would live for 200 years, 300 years, how would that actually affect the society you live then? You can't retire at 60 if you got to lift a 300 okay,

I'm sorry. By then you might not be working anywhere because the machines will be doing it all for you. So it'll be very boring. Knife. Gosh, I think I'm sick. I'm happy. Happy with my lot at a hundred yeah.

Well, let's see. These are all the things that we talk about in Psi Phi that are really interesting things to explore and I don't think we can know, and I think that's why it's interesting to read about those things.

That's why we need to live longer so that we can find out. I mean, we couldn't go. I'll tie this, ask her that leads to talk to you and everybody out there and see you next week. See you next week. Hi.

Dan & Abi work, talk & dream in tech. If you would like to discuss any speaking opportunity contact us.