Our perception of a cyberpunk future is shaped by the foresight of luminaries like William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling. Their vivid scenarios of ubiquitous computers, high tech weaponry, corporate tyranny and social disintegration have never been closer to reality than in the world of today.
Here’s a few facts that will make you question the very fabric of our contemporary existence and learn to embrace the promise and perils of an increasingly cyberpunk reality. A reality filled with high technology run by low life.
Preferable virtual reality
Much has happened since the term “cyberpunk” was coined by Bruce Bethke in 1980. Since those early days of cyberpunk your life has slowly been transformed into a real cyberpunk world. The hallmark of a cyberpunk society is the iron fist of the information overlords. Their clenched metal fist control the entire spectrum of media. Control of information is their key to the control of populations. Any sensitive documents you may have on companies or government entities will be stopped by court injunctions. The control of information lies in the hands of global companies, military intelligence and the mafia.
Cyberpunk literature often portrays the future as bleak, dirty and sterile at the same time. The few freedom fighting individuals left escape the control grid with high tech gadgetry. The sophistication of your latest media gadget keeps you occupied while the unemployable nomad hordes riot outside your guarded community. The only thing keeping them from you is the lethality of your robotic security dog. There is a thin veil of digital eye candy between you and the homeless people living in the tunnels beneath Las Vegas or the judicial outcasts hiding behind the walls of Kowloon City (closed down by the Chinese government).
You have the privilege of immersing yourself in the virtual world of a 3D home entertainment center while totalitarian states move closer to absolute control. The U.S. China, Iran and Israel deploy advanced systems for information control and enforce strict regimes of hidden censorship. This makes them vulnerable to sabotage.
The recent attacks on Iranian industrial control systems suggest that viruses like Stuxnet are only the beginning of cyber sabotage against industrial infrastructure. Outsourcing national cyberwar capabilities could potentially destabilize established international relations. Identifying the enemy becomes complicated when states hide behind proxy hackers. Obvious targets in a hostile cyberwar may not only be nuclear reactors, but also surveillance and communication satellites or the missile defense shield.
Cognitive weapons race
All this is something you don’t need to occupy your already overloaded sensory system with unless you’re enhancing your cognitive abilities with wakefulness drugs like Modafinil. Increasingly personalized medicine and cognitive drugs are heating up a mental weapons race. Cognitive neuropharma results in students relying on drugs for exams and an increasingly competitive job market.
In an atmosphere where every method is accepted it’s no surprise that most of the US stock market is traded by high frequency trading robots. The cognitive limit of the human mind is stretched to its limits while the race for profit never cease. The speed at which orders are made are now of such importance that the geographical location of servers are a competitive edge for investors.
The promise of the super intelligent home automation robot isn’t widely implemented. Instead our lives are filled with digital gadgets and software applications that support us like prosthesis. Your life is recorded and immortalized as an account on social media. Our minds are becoming artifacts for future generations to study on Facebook and Twitter.
Impending resource depletion
While your professional life and recreational activities increasingly resemble episodes of Star Trek the resources it depend on is vanishing. The industrial world is based on cheap and accessible energy sources. Many energy analysts argue that we are past the global peak production of oil, gas and coal. This will eventually lead to the collapse of most energy intensive industries.
Adding to this looming systemic collapse come Chinese amassing of rare earth metals necessary for the production of microprocessors and electronics. China has export controls of these metals and is accused of the US for price manipulation. No precious metals mean no high tech industry and no cheap entertainment for the masses.
The collapse of the industrial world will go in tandem with the collapse of the natural world. The present financial crisis has led investors away from high risk stock trading to low risk commodities. This shift of financial focus has led to increased speculation in the agricultural commodities market and food prices across the world are reaching an all time high. Most wars are therefore motivated by geopolitical leverage and access to resources. Manifestations of the impending collapse are everywhere if you know how to decipher seemingly trivial news.
Genetically tweaking our way out of the abyss
High end laboratories across the world are racing towards a cure for this pessimistic event horizon. Research in genetic engineering and synthetic biology is closing in on many of its goals. Bacteria are redesigned or built from scratch to produce new products that defy the limits of nature. Applications range from new biofuels and production of medicine to bacteria engineered to live on Mars.
Genetic technologies are as common as computer technology. The majority of the U.S. “corn basket” contains genetically modified crops. Genetic diagnostics on unborn babies are becoming the norm. Sex selection and screening for inherited diseases resemble the eugenic society envisioned by Johan Galtung or the genetic class society in Brave New World. Slow and subtle change is hard to recognize.
Striking the systempunkt
Cyberpunk societies are the natural home of an underground resistance. Only a few dissidents are willing to oppose the corporate sponsored government big brothers like NSA, GCHQ and Echelon scanning through every communication you will ever have. Being unaware the lies used to justify the shredding of civil liberties the masses are willingly sacrificing freedom for security.
A few intelligent observers are exposing the ongoing transformation of society and assault on our liberties. Political hackers, investigative journalists, Wikileaks and Cryptome will not submit to establishment secrecy. Leaderless resistance, anonymous hacking networks and the facilitation of leaks are the tools of the cyberpunk resistance. Based on the theories of fifth generational warfare these loose knit networks manage to neutralize the military might of standing armies.
Some practical means of resistance is still available; inverse surveillance and open source counter-surveillance will diminish the power of state surveillance. The access to surveillance technology and critical systems information will decide the end game of the free society. You are left with two options. Ignore the warning signs, take acting classes and go make a fortune on the latest internet fad or start digging the ditches for the final war.
Co-published in Interesting Times Magazine.