Daniel Lemire's blog

, 22 min read

Revisiting Vernor Vinge’s “predictions” for 2025

26 thoughts on “Revisiting Vernor Vinge’s “predictions” for 2025”

  1. Bill Tozier says:

    Not unrelated (at all): Cosma Shalizi’s argument, which I think I believe more than he does, that we already had one.

  2. @Bill

    That’s a very good point.

    I am mostly just interested in following specific facts about technology, and I am not sure that concepts such a “singularity” are helpful… precisely because it is a bit fuzzy.

    For example, when will machines reach human-level intelligence? Well, in many ways, they have already exceeded human-level intelligence… so what does that mean exactly?

  3. Chris Meadows says:

    Funny thing: a few years ago I did a piece looking at the futuristic predictions from Rainbows End, but it doesn’t seem like the things I looked at overlap with yours.

    Things I noticed:

    * The way they do fast destructive scanning of books by essentially putting them through a shredder and scanning the fragments as they blow past. We don’t have anything like that now, but shortly after the book was written (or shortly before?) Google touched off a firestorm of protest by its plan to digitize the contents of entire libraries in a rather slower process. It’s amusing to consider how by the time of the book, nobody seems to have much of a problem with China coming in and doing exactly the same thing to one of the biggest libraries in the world. They have a problem with the books being destroyed to do it, but apart from that? “Hey, China, make yourself at home!”

    * Micropayments are big in RE. We’re only just starting to see some of that sort of thing come in in the real world, in the form of Patreons for supporting creators and in-app purchases for mobile games (which are really the closest analogue we have to the way that belief circle members can use settings still under copyright).

    * Also, did you notice that in RE, the copyright term of movies is just five years? I suppose when you’re writing your own fantasy world, you can simply declare copyright to have been reformed by fiat and not have to worry about how you actually got there. 😛

    * I’m really surprised you didn’t mention the FedEx delivery drones (which were also a central factor in the short story that inspired RE, “Fast Times at Fairmont High”). That’s a prediction that looks like it has a pretty good chance of coming true, what with Amazon’s plan for delivery drones.

    * And finally, to use a TVTropes term, there’s the book’s “funny aneurysm moment” in that the central character was a recovered Alzheimer’s patient and part of the story involved a fictitious future Discworld novel. In a sad bit of irony, we just lost Terry Pratchett himself to Alzheimer’s a little while ago.

    1. Ted Mann says:

      The alteration of human perception by use of subliminals and subsonics embedded in media content and activation of select neuro dispositions (credulity) by means of a modified virus seems en pointe. Michael Levin at Tufts recently made the biggest discovery in the history of biomedical science and we’ve seen nothing about it. Levin is hardly fringe science, he’s manipulating the ‘biogenetic field’ to grow new limbs and new organ systems, which suggests we have an information distribution problem, selectively delivering the ‘news’ to produce predictable human behaviors.

  4. I think we’re seeing something like this in JavaScript frontend development. It seems each year it evolves a little faster. Spend a year out of the loop and you are obsolete. Even a month is pushing it if you want to remain bleeding edge.

    Perhaps the pace of development will slow down at some point as standardization picks up but I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s always some new thing around the corner.

    We’re also seeing something similar in web design. There are services on sight that can design a site based on given content. This would leave the designer out of the equation.

    A nice benefit of these approaches is that they can allow sites that can optimize their behavior based on usage and metrics (think SEO).

  5. Chris Meadows says:

    Here’s another one that only just occurred to me recently. I’ve been playing a lot of the mobile geolocation game Ingress, in which people have to go to specific places in the real world and do things to affect the outcome of the game.

    I’ve said before that it seems like something out of science-fiction. I only just twigged to the fact that the science fiction it seems like something out of is Rainbows End. It’s like one of Vinge’s “belief circles,” sans the augmented reality stuff.

    As with in the book, Ingress players go to specific locations in the real world and cooperate to achieve in-game goals. Sometimes they make really complicated plans that play out across vast geographical areas. (Occasionally so many of them show up in particular places, especially cemeteries, and behave so badly that they get kicked out.)

    They can also get really into these operations, planning them with a level of organization that suggests real-life intelligence organizations in the real world—becoming familiar with the play areas and habits of players on opposing sides and watching to see if they show up in strange places to try to figure out if an enemy operation is going on.

    And very little of this is visible to anyone who isn’t in the game. It all plays out in their virtual map overlaid on the real world.

  6. @Chris

    I cringed when I re-read the part about Terry Pratchett recently.

    I have taken the liberty to update my blog post with two of the points you rose, that is, Google Books and Amazon drones.

  7. @Juho

    Programming is progressing quite fast, I agree. I can build, today, in one hour an application that would have taken me a full week-end or more years ago.

    Sadly, other parts of programming have not followed and are still quite painful. C programming is still slow, error-prone and difficult… yet, there is no good alternative in many cases.

  8. @Daniel, I wrote a blog post related to the topic. Thanks for inspiration. See http://survivejs.com/blog/frontend-singularity-is-here/ .

    C is still hard, yes. It is getting challenged, though. See languages such as Rust or Nimrod (formerly Nim).

  9. Ah, messed up the names. It’s Nim (formerly Nimrod). And you probably know Go and such…

  10. @Juho

    I was hoping that Go was a “better C”, but it is nothing of the sort.

    I am having a hard time getting excited about Rust, it looks like a difficult language to pick up and master (kind of like C++).

    In this sense, I am more excited about Go… at least, it is easy and frees my mind to think about the problem rather than about the syntax.

  11. @Chris

    Ingress is indeed a form of “augmented reality”. However, Ingress is not very different from geocaching which started back in 2000, well before Rainbows end was written.

    (I am sure geocachers have been kicked out of cemeteries before.)

    What we would want, of course, is actual “visual” augmented reality where you can *see* the Ingress portals (with glasses or lens).

    It would be sad if it did not come in the next 10 years, but I understand that it is quite difficult. To project an overlay picture, you have to know where the user is looking at… and be very precise otherwise you induce motion sickness. Sadly, I don’t think we know how to do that yet.

  12. Nikola says:

    Indoors and with restricted field of view, but still almost here (2016?), an augmented reality: Microsoft HoloLens

  13. Daniel says:

    I think augmented reality as envisioned by Vernor Vinge is not that far away although it will look a bit different The first wave of this devices are coming next year. The motions sickness has been already solved by Valve also if the hype is real MagicLeap also solve it using light-field technology. The only question remaining : are those technology get any traction or will they fail like Google Glasses did ? If it does then I think we will see Vinge vision in the next 5 years.

  14. Just on the neurodegenerative treatment front: we’re recently had the first drug released that can actually retard the process of Alzheimers. Admittedly, it doesn’t stop or reverse it – only slow it down – but together with new ways to image and detect Alzheimers at early stages (which has arguably been the fundamental problem in Alzheimers research), it’s a real game changer. A cure by 2025? Maybe.

  15. @Agapow

    It does look like high resolution imaging techniques could help researchers.

    I am not aware of any therapy that is known to reliably delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. There are approved drugs, but, as far as I know, their utility is dubious at best. It seems more of a case that when nothing at all works, you might as well do something, anything.

    Of course, there are many ongoing clinical trials…

  16. @Daniel

    As far as I know gaming companies work mostly on virtual reality. Augmented reality is a different problem, isn’t it?

    To be fair, even in Vinge’s novel, augmented reality appears to be a work in progress.

  17. Daniel says:

    @ Daniel

    You right however Magic Leap is not virtual reality is truly augmented reality and then you have Microsoft Hololens they called it mixed reality but I don’t see the difference. Valve, they solved the motion sickens problem I think once it is proven technology it will be not that difficult to apply it to the augmented reality.

  18. Nikola says:

    It’s remarkable how much the brain can compensate the motion sickness by just adding a virtual “nose” it can anchor on.

  19. I was reminded of this post by an article I read today that paints Google Books in a far less optimistic light: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/what-ever-happened-to-google-books. This might be another one for your list of “dystopias you should fear” (http://lemire.me/blog/archives/2015/08/14/the-dystopia-you-should-fear): services provide increasing value but the churn in their providers grows apace with the value, with services often languishing after they’re created.

  20. @Kartik

    Though the New Yorker piece was written days ago, it seems to mostly refer to the pre-2013 era. I am not sure how much weight we should give it. I’d like to hear Google’s side of the story to see what is actually happening.

  21. Chris Meadows says:

    Silly article. I need to defenestrate it for TeleRead. Whatever happened to Google Books? Both it and its HathiTrust offshoot—scanning the books for search-engine fodder—were found to be transformative fair use.

    Tim Wu seems to feel like it’s a failure if the books aren’t made available to the public, but realistically speaking, I don’t think that was ever really in the cards. There simply isn’t a good solution for the orphan works problem yet. Hopefully the TPP treaty doesn’t foreclose on a solution before they can even begin to implement it.

    In the meanwhile, at least those books are searchable in a way they never were before, and now people have a much better way than fumbling through the card catalog to find out exactly what books they want, and then they can order them from Amazon or request them from their library.

  22. Chris Meadows says:

    Defenestration accomplished.

  23. Chris Meadows says:

    I took the article and, metaphorically speaking, threw it out a window. I think the word is valid.

  24. Daniel Lemire: Why, did something important happen in 2013?

    Chris Meadows: nice article. I was mostly concerned about Google shutting down the service like Google Reader and so on, but I wasn’t aware of hathitrust which protects us from that possibility.

    (You can’t claim any defenestration, though, until you get Tim Wu to stop writing for the New Yorker or something. I always found it too ugly a word to user lightly.)

  25. @Kartik

    Yes, in 2013, Google Books was basically declared legal.