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cyberspace, mirror worlds, tron and the unabomber

i am a diehard cyberpunk fan, and information pattern junkie. as i started reading about the history of the making of the movie "tron", patterns started to emerge that were interesting to me. here is a brief timeline of some interconnections that might surprise you...life imitating art, and the inevitable feedback loops.
1975: john brunner's "the shockwave rider" is published. often regarded as the first literary concept of cyberspace, and a primary influence on william gibson.

1979: william gibson describes his first conscious thought of cyberspace, living in vancouver, b.c. with a group of fellow vietnam war draft dodgers:

"I was walking down Granville Street, Vancouver's version of "The Strip," and I looked into one of the video arcades. I could see in the physical intensity of their postures, how rapt the kids were inside were. It was like one of those closed systems out of a Pynchon novel: a feedback loop with photons coming off the screens into the kids' eyes, neurons moving through their bodies, and electrons moving through the video game. These kids clearly believed in the space games projected. Everyone I know who works with computers seems to develop a belief that there's some kind of actual space behind the screen, someplace you can't see but you know is there."

1979-1981: bonnie macbird writes original script for "tron", about the struggle of technology against the monolithic structure of corporate america--hackers vs. the suits--and humanity's simultaneous excitement and fear of technology. while researching for the script, she met and later married dr. alan kay, who is one of the most influential futurists and thinkers of modern times, and "...is best known for the idea of personal computing, the conception of the intimate laptop computer, and the inventions of the now ubiquitous overlapping-window interface and modern object-oriented programming."

1982: "tron" released in theaters, stunning audiences with its visual effects. disney mainly tried to capitalize on the video game craze for kids, but the movie's adult themes appealed to many and confused others. the academy awards refused to nominate "tron" for special effects, calling the use of computers "cheating". "tron" is considered prophetic and way ahead of its time, and its visual representation of "cyberspace" was to have huge ripples of effect to this day.

1984: gibson publishes "neuromancer", which was first to coin the term "cyberspace". character finn--who is technical engineer and has his personality digitized--is hypothesized as a reference to flynn character in "tron" [or at least a strong coincidence]. gibson's description of cyberspace is closely tied to tron's "mirror world": "Lines of light ranged in the non space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receeding..."

1992: neal stephenson publishes "snow crash", about a pizza delivery man who jacks in and out of cyberspace, in a world where corporations have almost completely "won". stephenson is heavily influenced by gibson, and dramatically builds upon the cyberspace concept. it is interesting to note that in tron's original script, the protagonist flynn was a pizza delivery boy.

1993: david gelernter--yale professor and highly influential futurist--publishes "mirror worlds". gelernter's influential book attempts to manifest the cyberspace concepts--popularized by gibson, tron and others--into reality. the rise of the world wide web, the creation of the java language, and advances in artificial intelligence are cited as being heavily influenced by "mirror worlds". gelernter--a self-described anti-technologist--discusses the fusion of art, music and history into the next technology revolution.

1993, june 24: david gelernter receives a mail-bomb from ted kaczynski (unabomber) and is nearly killed by the blast. kaczynski singled out gelernter as one of the most influential technologist of the era, and someone to be stopped by any means necessary.

1995, april 24: kaczynski sends a letter to gelernter, stating: "In the epilog of your book, 'Mirror Worlds,' you tried to justify your research by claiming that the developments you describe are inevitable...They are inevitable only because techno-nerds like you make them inevitable...But we do not believe that progress and growth are inevitable."

1999: the movie, "the matrix" is released. the movie makes direct and intentional references to gibson's "neuromancer", and the whole concept of virtual "mirror worlds".

present: searching, cataloging and data warehousing are megatrends in this information age. google's designers cite gelernter's "mirror worlds" as an early influence. microsoft's new search engine competitor to google incorporates ideas from gelernter. the "total information awareness" and "lifelog" data warehouse projects of the department of defense are influenced by "mirror worlds" concepts and chronological indexing.

was the unabomber right, are we manifesting our own future demise with our unbridled embrace of technology? or is technology setting us free? who the hell knows, but this question has sure captured a chunk of our collective unconscious.

Automated Flexibility 19.Mar.2005 19:56

Process ID

Not yet fully appreciated in science fiction, the open source movement appears to be profoundly shaping the future of "cyberspace". Perhaps for the better, the open source movement has focused attention back on the real role of computing: that of automated computation. In other words, a computer functions to compute numbers and manipulate data. Display graphics constitute a subsidiary function. Of course, the ability to automate the display of graphical information, including animation of real-life images, has captured the imaginations of so many writers in the last decade. However, with the advent of networked computing and information servers, the emphasis has changed to supply of information at the click of a mouse or tapping of keys. Thus the real power of networked computing, in the form of the Internet, has provided, for the first time in recorded history, the ability to instantly present information to a global audience.

At first the corporate world, almost certainly, viewed this development enthusiastically as a means to vastly increase efficiency in doing business. Many people believe however, beginning with the Seattle WTO ministerial in November, 1999, the Internet took a new turn: that of educating the common man as to the political nature of the world in which we live. This turn of events has had such a profound impact that few authors of fiction have yet grasped the implications sufficiently enough to create new themes for works of fiction. The 1999 movie "The Matrix" certainly came close, but still failed to realize the full implications of networked computing. Oddly enough, Terminator III touched on what mathematician and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge pointed out as the most likely venue for the spontaneous appearance of artificial intelligence. In "The Coming Technological Singularity" Vinge points to aggregate whole of all networked computers as the most likely venue to watch for the emergence of artificial intelligence.

In summary, contemporary writers of fiction mostly fall about ten years behind the actual reality of today's world. If this is any indication, then we can truly say the technological world has accelerated at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, so has the dark side. The possibly of electronically controlling our very thoughts, feelings, and experiences seems to be a possibility just on the horizon. Perhaps the real impact of "The Matrix" has to do with the exploration of just this possibility: we can be enslaved and imprisoned without our ever even knowing it. So, in this sense "The Matrix" hails from ahead of its time.

all of which brings up... 20.Mar.2005 00:24

background deamon

when you have found the god icon in your apple, can you then call yourself a "power user"?

movies 20.Mar.2005 04:41

U. Sam

I recently saw a movie called "equilibrium". This was a 1984-esque rip with a differen't spin. Instead of "thought crimes", the movie has "sense offenders". In this world, war does not exist and neither does hate. "the father" is a visionary that sees that emotion is the root of these problems, get rid of emotion, get rid of war.

The citizens are made(or convinced) to take a drug(equilibrium) to supress emotion. The "clerics"(gustapo) are the sense police. Contraband are relics from the past that cause emotion. Paintings, music, books. Resistance fighters hide these and escape "normal" life by not taking the drug, pretending to be emotionless, and hiding to enjoy these things of the past. There are little bits of social commentary throughout the action sci-fi main plot or vice versa.


Another interesting movie is "paranoia 1.0"

Jeremy Sisto (SIX FEET UNDER) and Deborah Kara Unger (CRASH) star in the moody sci-fi film PARANOIA 1.0. Sisto plays Simon, a computer programmer who wakes up every morning to find a brown package in his apartment, with no idea how it got there. Stranger still, there is never anything inside. He begins to suspect that one of his odd-egg neighbors (Unger and genre mainstays Udo Kier and Lance Henrikson) is behind it, but there seems no way to be sure. Growing increasingly paranoid, Simon begins to wonder if the whole affair is just a byproduct of losing his sanity. The frantic and disturbing nature of the story is balanced by first-time directors Jeff Renfroe and Martienn Thorsson's slow pace, deliberate framing, and handsome cinematography. PARANOIA 1.0 was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

The synopis above leaves out the corporate dominance aspect, which makes it an interesting piece of social commentary.

Not sci-fi, but on the documentary tip, you might want to see boenhoeffer instead

BONHOEFFER is a new 90-minute documentary film that tells the dramatic story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German theologian who offered one of the first clear voices of resistance to Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer openly challenged his church to stand with the Jews in their time of need, and eventually joined his family in the plots to kill Hitler. His books, Cost of Discipleship, Letters and Papers from Prison, Ethics, were written during the struggle and are considered classics in the world of religion and ethics.

"Bonhoeffer is one of the great examples of moral courage in the face of conflict," explains director/writer Martin Doblmeier. "I believe part of the reason the film is getting attention now is because many of the issues Bonhoeffer faced ? the role of the church in the modern world, national loyalty and personal conscience, what the call to being a "peacemaker" really means ? are issues we continue to struggle with today."

"we have been silent witnesses of evil deeds...Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough for us to find our way back?" - dietrich boenhoeffer

Video preview:


I haven't seen this movie, but came up in a search:


david gelernter = neo-con elite 21.Mar.2005 02:23

avid reader

david gelernter is indeed a very interesting writer / thinker. he has been hugely influential in the technology realm, and he has now---surprise, surprise--become a CORE writer / strategist for the neo-con movement. are we in the matrix yet?

in a recent article called "Americanism—and Its Enemies", gelernter writes:

"Americanism is in fact a Judeo-Christian religion; a millenarian religion; a biblical religion...

To sum up Americanism's creed as freedom, equality, and democracy for all is to state only half the case. The other half deals with a promised land, a chosen people, and a universal, divinely ordained mission. This part of Americanism is the American version of biblical Zionism; in short, American Zionism...Americanism is the end-stage of political Puritanism, which in turn was the yearning to live in contact with God as a citizen of God's new Israel...

The fundamental fact: the Bible is God's word. Two premises: first, every member of the American community has his own individual dignity, insofar as he deals individually with God; second, the community has a divine mission to all mankind. Three conclusions: every human being everywhere is entitled to freedom, equality, and democracy."

gelernter's article has sent shockwaves through the political science and theology worlds, and is ominous when it is understood that this is nothing short of the neo-con "next wave" of thinking, which directly drives the bush administration foreign policy.

michael collins piper writes a scathing challenge to gelernter's theories:

"In an audacious essay published in the January 2005 issue of Commentary magazine—the journal of the American Jewish Committee—Yale Professor David Hillel Gelernter says that "Americanism" itself—at least as defined by Gelernter and those who share his views—is no more than a modern-day evolution of old-line Zionist thought, going back to the Bible itself. America, he contends, is essentially the new Israel, the new Jerusalem, a virtual adjunct of the state of Israel itself.

That such a proposition was put forth in Commentary, long-edited by neo-conservative "ex-Trotskyite" Norman Podhoretz, who still remains the power- behind-the-scenes at the journal, means quite a lot, inasmuch as Commentary is generally recognized as one of the foremost influences directing U.S. foreign policy in the Bush administration today.

In addition, although Gelernter is a specialist in computer science, his views on political affairs are regularly published with great fanfare in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, and in such staunch pro-Israel publications as The New Republic, National Review and The Weekly Standard, the media voice of William Kristol, perhaps the chief media publicist and public affairs strategist for the neo-conservative point of view today...

While all of this, of course, is the writing of one man, David Gelernter, a fanatic supporter of Israel, his thinking reflects many powerful figures who are now dictating American foreign policy in the name of a grand scheme of advancing some ill-defined global democratic revolution. What it represents is really nothing more than the New World Order that genuine American patriots have warned about for generations, a scheme that is very real "anti-Americanism" in its most basic definition. Don't make the mistake of discounting the influence of such twisted thinking: agree or disagree with the thesis, what Gelernter has put forth in Commentary defines the philosophy of the ruling elite in America today."

whoa. did we take the red or blue pill?

something's missing 21.Mar.2005 15:18

ack nagasakinightmare1945@yahoo.com

I'm hurt, very personaly. Nobody even mentioned... Johnny Mnemonic!!! (1995)... quite possibly the BEST MOVIE EVER... I mean who doesn't LOVE Ice-T? C'Mon!

It's a cyberpunk classic, really much more influential than, say, ANYTHING! (except maybe Blade Runner, which doesn't exactly have a lot to do with "cyberspace" but is widely believed to be a really great eddition to the cyberpunk genre)

Let's hear it for any movie with both Henry Rollins and Dolf Lundgren sharing the screen. Genious!

... in any case, I think what's really so disturbing about cyberpunk is that it offers a possible reality, caused by the horrible affects of extreme captalism, or maybe just classic Marxian "capitalist break down" that still appeals to people. It's that rugged individualist theme which draws people in, that Mad Max kind of lone wonderer, relying on you own personal strength, inginuity and cunning to survive. When really we should be looking for community. I'm not going to say that technology is in itself bad. I think it, like eveything, is more complicated then just good or bad. I mean, obviously, a Nuclear Bomb doesn't have a lot of positive uses, but that doesn't mean that a pace-maker doesn't. You know?
I'm not trying to hate on Cyberpunk at all. As a genre of entertainment I like it a lot- but we need to make sure tha we don't sucumb to it's allure. I personaly will be pissed when the Police are directly owned by corperations and people "jack in" directly to the internet. That shit would suck.

(p.s. if anyone is interested in starting a Johnny Mnemonic fan club, e-mail me.)

jesus, ack! 21.Mar.2005 16:34

you can't mean it

I don't think you can be serious. Johnny M was one of the worst film versions of a great story to hit the screen. Keeno Reeves is at his artificial worst (his speech under the bridge has to be one of the most awful moments in acting history, purely B movie stuff.) The Molly character has no balls. (so to speak) And the stuff added to the story is just absurd. Way to take an excellent story and butcher it. I like the Ice-T character, though.

If you like bad versions of cool William Gibson stories, try the awful but at least moody version of "New Rose Hotel". Slow moving but captures the feeling of the story.

"Strange Days" is a little known but I think excellent movie in this genre. Creepy, but deep and even redeeming.

on liberty and americanism 22.Mar.2005 01:41

cyd realistic.optimist@gmail.com

beyond just a Romantic view of cyberspace technology creating a present day frankenstein, the above comments go on to show current government policy directly influenced by many of the very notions these authors and script writers warned against, most notably evident in david gelernter's recent article, unavailable from the commentary magazine site, entitled Americanism--and Its Enemies (reposted here).

david galertner's article posits americanism as a religion, and makes the case rather well. believe it or not, the following excerpt (with links i inserted myself) is part of a treatise declaring americanism to be divinely inspired and nothing short of manifest destiny without being tongue in cheek:

In the 20th century, you would have needed enormous determination to turn your back on the isolationism and anti-militarism that comes naturally to Americans and butt into World War I—and then, after World War II, to reject isolationism once again when you accepted the Soviet empire's challenge. Freedom and independence for Greece and Turkey—not exactly pressing American interests—occasioned America's entry into the cold war. And what on earth would make an Idaho or Nebraska farmer—that man about whom Tony Blair spoke so feelingly in his eloquent 2003 address to Congress—believe that it was his responsibility to protect the Iraqi people and the world from Saddam Hussein? What did all that have to do with him?

Americanism is potent stuff. It is every bit as fervent and passionate a religion as the anti-Americanism it challenges and rebukes.

clearly, this is a topic which affects us all, whether we are plugged in or not. it seems hope for our freedom lies more and more in the hands of activists and hacktivists, though admittedly most of us are slacktivists and to be honest, in a day and age in which it is progressively difficult to stomach what is going on IRL, it is unsurprising that more and more americans are taking refuge in the very cyberspace that will be used to usurp our freedoms. i do, however, find it surprising that so few are actively organizing to reclaim and retain our "freedoms," since that appears to be a Bush Word™ used because people respond emotionally to it. franklin delano roosevelt, clearly a neo-con hero, said in his famous "four freedoms" speech "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety," and i would have to agree.

Strange Days 22.Mar.2005 03:24

only worth it for cyberpunk collectors

Strange Days has its good points, but there's a rape-murder scene shot from the perspective of the perpetrator that a lot of people find mind-blowingly offensive, and the ending kisses the ass of power in a way that's neither warranted by political reality nor credible in terms of the characters' prior behavior. The basic idea -- burn your memories on DVD! buy illegal experiences from bootleggers! -- is pretty good cyberpunk, but really the movie only works as a romance. And that's just a secondary subplot.

Cypherpunk 23.Mar.2005 03:23


I have a conspiracy theory I thought I'd share with you. I think that it's got about a 5% chance of being true, but it might resonate with other things that you or your other readers have read.

There is a curious program in Maryland, begun in 1972 or so and continuing, while in a significantly different fashion until this day. I was involved in it at almost the very beginning.

In that time period, all students in public schools in Maryland were given a standardized test called "The Iowa Test of Basic Skills." It measured aptitude and ability in several areas.

The students who scored in the top 2 percentile in the math section of the exam were further tested under a program run by Julian Stanley at The Johns Hopkins University. The SAT was among the tests given to these children. The top 2 percent scorers on these tests were then given a very wide range of psychological profile and aptitude tests, and were given the opportunity to participate in accelerated math courses taught at Johns Hopkins on weekends and during the summer. There were about 30 kids in my group, starting in 1973.

This program was called SMSPY, the Study of Mathematically and Scientifically Precocious Youth. They dropped the Scientific pretty quickly, and it then became just SMPY. These kids were then encouraged to apply to college early, and were encouraged to study mathematics once they got there. I entered Johns Hopkins in 1975 after completing two years of high school, as part of a group that numbered about 20.

Now comes the conspiracy part. During my time at JHU (until I was thrown out for good cause) there were several instances when I was encouraged to consider working for the NSA. I was encouraged, as well, to take number theory courses -- something of almost no use outside of cryptography. Several of my friends ended up working for NSA, typically giving reasons like "All the best researchers in the world are there -- if you want to participate in advanced mathematics you pretty much have to be at NSA."

I didn't think anything of this until reading Brunner's "The Shockwave Rider," which described a similar school and program.


COMPLEXYTY 22.Jan.2007 13:07

ubaldo v. dracula1446@yahoo.com

COMPLEXITY is what ive been learning about you guys should go check it out it'S AMAZING!!!