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Your frig will be smarter than your Mac, predicts sci-fi author William Gibson


wg Credit: Photo by Michael O'Shea

William Gibson, author of the acclaimed futuristic novel "Neuromancer," has been dubbed the "noir prophet of cyberpunk" and "the god of speculative fiction." He will be signing copies of his latest book, "Distrust That Particular Flavor," a collection of his wide-ranging essays, at the Union Square Barnes and Noble 7 p.m. Jan. 10.

Q: You coined the term "cyberspace" in your short story "Burning Chrome" in 1982. How did you come up with the word and what is it's future?

A: I needed a term to describe a virtual world that was not space ships in outer space. I sat down and started writing on a pad of yellow legal paper words like "digi-space," and "info-space," but they weren't sexy. "Cyberspace" sounded like it meant something. It was a neat little piece of creativity that people used in advertising or marketing. The term is going away, though, for the same reason "electro" is no longer used as it was in the early 1900s. Now it's redundant. Everything is cyber.

Q: In your book, you bemoan the sterility and sameness of things in Singapore, which you describe as "Disneyland with the death penalty." How does New York compare?

A: New York is cooked, like London. It's a late capitalist thing. The amazing experience I had in New York in 1979 is an experience you can only have in a city that hasn't been finished. Once the real estate value has been maximized and everything is fixed up, all property becomes equally valuable and the city's business becomes selling itself: It can't change. There's no way to have all the (creative, dynamic, idiosyncratic) things that made the city valuable, because those things require affordable street level retail and affordable housing.

Q: You've proven yourself to be a prescient prognosticator. What does your crystal ball tell you is ahead?

A: The Internet is coming out of the computer and colonizing our world. Cyberspace won't just be sitting on your phone. It has spread itself into the physical world and soon you won't be able to get away from it. Our great grandchildren will find it hard to figure out how we had all these little machines to do everything: The natural tendency is to consolidate into one big thing, so all our stuff and business will be distributed. Your car will know what your frig told it to do and your toaster or frig will be smarter than your Mac book is now. It will all be wireless. The algorithm for change is that things get cheaper and faster.

Q: What platform should we be reading your new book on?

A: I'm not a platform partisan. I read an e-issue of Time magazine last year on my iPad, but I've never read an e-book. I'm a product of the printed book. It's all I've ever known. But now I constantly meet people who have never known it: My own readers don't get my nostalgia for books. If I had a reading pedometer, though, tracking the printed words I read and those I read on screen, the number would now probably be about even.

Q: You've bemoaned the death of reliability and fact checking as people appropriate information retrieved from cyberspace as fact. The quote, "before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes," is attributed to you by oodles of people, but I can't find where you've written or said it. Is it yours?

A: It's not true! It's a result of the decay of attribution! Someone I follow on Twitter tweeted that statement, which was by someone I never heard of and I retweeted it! (Gibson has 65,000 Twitter followers.) The Internet definitely lowers accuracy. There used to be a constant human fact-checking going on before. It cost something! Now, anything can get into the media mix and just stay there, but it's possible to introduce a counter virus to catch up with the falsehoods and restore balance. Perhaps you can help set this record straight. At least it's a good quote.

Q: What are your favorite sites for wasting time on the Internet?

A: I use eBay as a museum and reference tool: You can look at any toy from your childhood or find post cards from any place in the world they've had post cards. The people I follow on Twitter direct me to the day's casual reading. I'm following some really smart people, but because they aren't famous, I'm reluctant to cite them. I was an early Twitter enthusiast and it's the only social media product I've embraced. I never have done Facebook. Those sites (on Facebook that carry my name) aren't mine. We still get the (printed) Vancouver Sun, but my wife gets it first.

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