Rainbows End is a new (May 2, 2006) book from Vernor Vinge.
It's set in a near-future world, set in about 2027 (I don't think the current date is ever stated explicitly in the story).
It provides an opportunity to think about how dramatic change has already been.
The YGBM mind-control technology in the book reminded me of another book, in which discoveries in Ur, ancient Sumeria, led to a way to use language to control people.
I couldn't remember which book it that was. In an older age, I might have flipped through pages, but instead I Googled
ur mind-control book
excavations ur mind-control book - failed, although interestingly it brought up LibraryThing as a result
excavations ur language science fiction
"Ur" turned out to be a dead-end - too many hits on people using it in place of your/you're, and too many real conspiracy theory sites
science fiction sumeria language control - success. The novel is Stephenson's Snow Crash.
This is something that even I, an oldster, do without evening really thinking about it.
A few seconds, a few queries, and up comes the desired result.
Just step back and think about this: in June of 1995, which to my mind is when the web was starting to come to life, there were a grand total of 23,500 web sites (Measuring the Growth of the Web). It would be three years before Google even came into existence, in 1998 (google founded). Eleven years. Eight years.
And in that tiny span of time, I've gone from amazement as I watched sites, one by one, light up on the web ("never thought they would make a web page") to expecting to get relevant search results in an instant from the vastness of the world's knowledge with what is, upon inspection, the most hopeless jumble of a few keywords. This is magic of the highest order.
Vinge projects that magic a few decades into the future, an exceedingly great challenge (the near-future is always harder to do that a distant future galaxy). His world struck me as what would happen if all the predictions and trends in Friedman's The World is Flat were to come true.
In this future world, computing is ubiquitous. Computing nodes scattered everywhere "improve" the world around you, allowing you to retrieve information about an object with a single glance.
Young people navigate this computing environment intuitively, doing things their elders can barely understand. The old can be rescued from a host of ills by medical miracles, but then find themselves in a world that has passed them by. Even if they don't fall ill, people who were geniuses find themselves back at High School, having fallen behind in the space of a few years.
Almost everything involves collaboration and alliances, with a clever Vinge coinage of "affiliances".
The plot follows Robert Gu, a former genius poet who had a dark side of verbal cruelty. Rescued from deep Alzheimer's, he has to attend Fairview High (in a lowly vocational class) in order to try to learn enough skills to be a productive citizen in the new world. He falls in with a group that, rather unconvincingly, is opposed to the Librareome Project, a sort of Google Books re-imagined in a way to horrify librarians: the books are literally shredded, with the scanning taking place (the pieces turned into bits, as it were) as the "shredda" pass through an imaging scanner, vast compute resources making it possible to reassemble the millions of jigsaw pieces in real time. There is a bit of handwaving here (as we used to say in Physics), in order to justify this process (it will be handwaving better than Google's earlier digitization handwaving) and in order to construct outrage (it's not convincing in a world of just-in-time book objects, that can display any page of any digitized book, as well as just-in-time printing).
The cabal opposed to the Librareome is manipulated by various forces involved with a biologically-based mind-control project.
The climax builds up to... a certificate revocation.
In the cyber-world, destroying a certificate-based chain of trust causes massive system disruption.
Unfortunately the justification for this event also seems a bit contrived. Someone starts behaving in a slightly suspicious and undesirable way, and immediately this planetary calamity is unleashed.
The ending is rather unsatisfactory - practically every end is left loose, presumably for sequels.
This leads to some more unconvincing bits - mice that have been used in a biology array scurrying away? They've spend their entire lives in a plastic tube just slightly larger than their body and all of a sudden when let go they still have the wits, eyesight and muscles to scurry away?
In this way, I felt Rainbows End was a bit weaker than some of Vinge's earlier books.
That being said, there are plenty of ideas in here to dazzle. The ideas of mind-enhancement we saw in A Deepness in the Sky become JITT, Just-In-Time-Training, that can give you vast knowledge but unfortunately tends to fry your brain. Items are invented as needed
"The glue?" Tommie looked faintly embarrassed. "It doesn't exist yet. But it's almost been invented." ... The product should exist in less than two weeks... He looked back at Robert's incredulity. "Hey, this is just what hacking is like nowadays."
There is a field called prospective medicine, where your current treatment is determined not by what is currently available, but by what is expected to be shortly invented.
And I believe
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all o-yeah
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry baby, don't cry
Paul Simon - The Boy in the Bubble - Graceland
I think there is something happening here, and what it is isn't exactly clear (For What It's Worth).
If you have GoogleRank, the most amazing things come to you.
While I sleep, people from China find my Long Tail review and read it and wonder who I am.
Guangdong, Tianjin, China, 1 returning visit
Date Time WebPage
20th August 2006 09:35:19 Science Library Pad: my review of The Long Tail
20th August 2006 09:36:54 Science Library Pad: my review of The Long Tail
20th August 2006 09:41:44 Richard Akerman
That's not just the Internet as the new CB radio. That's a freaking flat world earthquake.
People I have never met engage me to do work.
I affiliate with Google and Amazon, and a dozen other companies have an affiliation link just waiting for me to click it
Wikipedia - Book Sources - ISBN 0312856849
and as I type, my email icon bounces with each new spam.
I think if you're a librarian and into technology foresight, you will enjoy this book.
July 24, 2006 NPR on tech singularity, featuring Vernor Vinge