What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word, “cyberspace?” Is it the internet or perhaps the futuristic world found in the popular movie franchise of the Matrix trilogy?
For me the term “cyberspace” brings up memories of the William Gibson books from whence the phrase came. William Gibson was the founder of the cyberpunk genre of science fiction. They were excellent books; “Neuromancer” is a must read, and is soon to be a major motion picture.
William Gibson defined cyberspace as an ultra-realistic virtual world where people (called neuromancers, or cyber cowboys) would “jack in” directly to their brain and project themselves into this world to “hack” the system. Everything was on this system, all data, and all knowledge in a 3 or more dimensional setting.
Shadowrun, a popular role-playing game from the 1980’s was the next to pick up on cyberspace. In Shadowrun, futuristic technology and magic met in the near future of 2053. It was “deckers” who now jacked into cyberspace to cause problems for the mega-corporations that ruled the planet of the future.
When cyberspace is mentioned today, I still think of those early references. I still envision the little bits of electronic data speeding through the huge, global interconnecting lines that criss-cross the globe as microscopic beams of light.
Just how close are we to these futuristic visions of cyberspace that come from the past?
While technology hasn’t yet caught up with cyberpunk cyberspace visions of the past, it looks like it could in the future. The World Wide Web and internet are growing closer to that vision on a daily basis as is virtual reality itself.
Consider for example the Nintendo Wii that uses a new type of controller to manipulate the game on your TV screen. The Nintendo Wii often forces a player to stand, to box using both hands, to swing the controller like a golf-club only to watch your shot slice off in distance. True virtual reality, and by extension, cyberspace is but a few steps away.
There are also several devices that let users play games with their minds only. Using helmets with electrodes placed on their scalp, blind people are able to manipulate notes on a staff to sound different pitches by the power of thought alone.
A similar device has been developed by Cyberlearning Technologies based on Braingames software developed by NASA. The Braingames helmets used in conjunction with the Sony Playstation 2 and games such as “Burnout” are being used as a form of therapy for people with extreme cases of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
With it, they control a car speeding down a road on a television monitor. They steer the car left and right, accelerate and brake with brainwaves to force them to hold their concentration so the car doesn’t crash. This technology hopes to one day allow the disabled to control prosthetic limbs with the power of thought alone.
I for one, hope that cyberspace does advance to the William Gibson stage of the cyberpunk genre. I think it would be great to “jack in” to a virtual world better than reality and conduct my personal and professional business there. Think of the fun games you could play and all the things you could do.
Skiing without the fear of injury, deep sea diving without the possibility of drowning, flying through space and time to witness history or at least a simulated version there of. Being the Silver Surfer and exploring space via a surfboard wouldn’t require the power cosmic.
The possibilities are as endless as one’s imagination.
One must wonder; if these visions of cyberspace came to pass would we lose our humanity in the process? Human interaction would definitely be lacking, or would it? If everyone has a life-like avatar and we feel the sensations of touch like we do now, would there really be that much difference?
Perhaps we would willingly choose to live in a world of “The Matrix,” where robots keep our bodies alive and the rest is a utopian paradise of virtual reality.