Neal Stephenson the technologists author
Oct 11, 2008 | Virtual Reality
WHAT IS IT ?
Neal Stephenson is a Seattle based author who is a hero and inspiration to many in the technology industry. His work typically blends science, mathematics, history, and systems theory into beautifully detailed novels which whilst often intimidating in size leave the reader with a profound sense that they came away a more learned and aware person than they were before they started. Stephensons’ new book ‘Anathem’ launched last month and I just picked up a copy today.
Synopsis From Amazon, ‘Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of a 3,400-year-old monastery, a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians. There, he and his cohorts are sealed off from the illiterate, irrational, unpredictable “saecular” world, an endless landscape of casinos and megastores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change. Until the day that a higher power, driven by fear, decides it is only these cloistered scholars who have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one by one, Raz and his friends, mentors, and teachers are summoned forth without warning into the unknown.’
There’s also an interesting new promotional strategy up on his site with the use of a trailer to introduce the book:
WHY IS IT RELEVANT ?
When we were working on the early vision and direction for Photosynth we would often make references to the ‘metaverse’ that Stephenson coined in ‘Snowcrash’. His description of media and devices in ‘The Diamond Age’ are on the cusp of fruition with the iphone and e-ink, as well as the use of digital actors in movies such as James Cameron’s ‘Avatar‘. In the same way that Star Trek inspired thousands of engineers in the 60’s, Stephenson (along with other science fiction luminaries like William Gibson) have influenced the generation building the virtual worlds we’re starting to inhabit today. The interconnectedness of the web and the resulting opportunity for cross pollination and exchange of ideas has enabled more and more of us to become multi-disciplinarians and generalists. A five page tangent on the history of currency might spur an idea on a new web payment system. A description of architects designing and fabricating giant cities and structures using nanotechnology makes us think about what tools and software would be needed to manifest such a vision. Hearing fictional accounts of Newton’s experiments with light and prisms reminds us to look further than the computer screen for answers. In short Stephenson is ‘one of us’ and his novels help provide a magnetic north to aspire to or in some cases to avoid. If you haven’t given him a try and you have the patience to get through the pages you’ll be richly rewarded.