William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer predicted how technology would shape our future. Some of Gibson's ideas such as the web and cyberspace have become reality, but others were just wide of the mark. As the novel celebrates its silver anniversary this year, we look at just what it got right and what went wrong.
Neuromancer tells of famous hacker, McCoy Pauley, who originally taught Case how to hack and later died of heart failure during an especially dangerous assault in cyberspace.
But before Pauley died (in the clinical sense), some people hooked his brain up to a computer and dumped the contents - his hacking expertise, memories, habits, idiosyncrasies, everything - out onto a ROM cassette, creating a 'construct' of the former hacker.
Long after the flesh-and-bone Pauley's death, Case and Molly steal the construct, which can think and talk, so that Pauley can help them complete their mission.
The conversations between Case and "the flatline" as he calls the construct, are priceless. The construct isn't quite sure whether he's alive or dead, and when he learns that he is just data on a disk he isn't very happy about the situation. Pauley eventually asks Case to erase the ROM, effectively putting his mind to rest for good.
Can a person's consciousness - the whole neurological operating system - be recorded and preserved even as the physical body expires? This prospect raises a lot of messy ethical, philosophical, spiritual, and legal questions that neither I nor my children will likely have to wrestle with.
Very good reading, for sure, but very future-tense technology.
Neuromancer is important because of its astounding predictive power. Gibson's core idea in the novel is the direct integration of man and computer, with all the possibilities (and horrors) that such a union entails.
The book eventually sold more than 160 million copies, but bringing the book to popular attention took a long time and a lot of word-of-mouth. The sci-fi, community, however, was acutely aware of the novel's importance when it came out. Neuromancer won sci-fi's big three awards in 1984; the Hugo Award, the Philip K Dick Memorial Award, and the Nebula Award.
See also: 2020: The future of technology revealed
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