Tag Archives: charlie stross

Rule 34 and high concept sci-fi

I love the way Charlie Stross writes; he uses his books to test a theory, and nowhere is this more true and more evident than in his Halting State / Rule 34 novels.

Whilst superficially the stories follow a pair of criminal investigations, the theses tested include the implications of a world of augmented-reality gaming and digital infrastructure gone mad, and examining the nature of artificial intelligence and the potential evolution of spam-filtration into possibly sentient moral arbitration. It’s absolutely fascinating and terrifyingly possible, and when discussed via the mechanism of a criminal investigation and some very weird people, thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining.

Anyway, have finished Rule 34 now. Highly, highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to the next concept Mr Stross decides to test in his Scottish near-future world.

The experience reminds of when I first ploughed through Asimov’s Foundation series – whilst that ended up a fairly typical space-opera, the series initially was a testing ground for a deterministic philosophy of human society and a theoretical science. At least, that’s how I saw it when it was the subject of my BA philosophy of science thesis…

Charlie Stross on ‘true naming’ – and Google+

I hadn’t really considered the full implications of Google+’s “true naming” policy, but Charlie has the issues mapped out perfectly here.

To start with, as Patrick McKenzie pointed out in his blog last year (before all this blew up), programmers almost always get name handling wrong because there is no universal format for a human name.

Charlie goes on to point out a whole bunch of other reasons why this is a problem for Google and it’ll be interesting to see how they resolve it. The anti-cultural bias of the ‘True Name’ policy is very unlike Google, despite the (admirable?) goal of keeping the social network honest. But as Charlie points out:

Google are wrong about the root cause of online trolling and other forms of sociopathic behaviour. It’s nothing to do with anonymity. Rather, it’s to do with the evanescence of online identity. People who have long term online identities (regardless of whether they’re pseudonymous or not) tend to protect their reputations. Trolls, in contrast, use throw-away identities because it’s not a real identity to them: it’s a sock puppet they wave in the face of their victim to torment them.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out… although of course, I’m still not quite using Google+ yet. It needs events, and more people I actually know, as opposed to randoms with no profile adding me, possibly expecting reciprocity.

As an aside, I’m still reading Charlie’s Rule 34 – took a break from novels to catch up on some DCU comics – and it continues to be awesome. Charlie’s mentioned a few AR overlays, a lot of tablets, a few 3D ‘fabbers’,  but no social networks yet – maybe, in the near future, we all forget our logins…

Charles Stross’ Rule 34

rule34Having taken my time with A dance with dragons I was worried it would take me a while to get into my next read, but as I picked Charlie Stross’ Rule 34, I’ve thankfully fallen straight into it (bonus: Kindle edition is cheaper than paperback!).

The follow up to another favourite near-future read of mine by Stross, Halting State, the world of Rule 34 is a near-future Scotland in which a few polis protagonists cope with a seedy, run down, cyberpunk dystopia – filled with semi-believable technology (AR glasses and overlays, 3D printers and the associated black market, etc etc) – which are absolutely fascinating. And Charlie tells of them with his easy, occasionally impenetrable (due to the need to interpret a written interpretation of strong Scottish accents) prose and dialogue.

A ready pleasure.

Unfortunately, at 360 pages, it’s not going to last long. So I’m going to need more book recommendations…

Booz & co report on Generation C


My colleague Harriet pointed me to this interesting bit of futurism from Booz & Co, looking at the rise of ‘Generation C’ – a new wave of digital natives born post 1990.

I used to absolutely love this future gazing stuff but I think I’m getting a bit cynical in my old age. As accurately as this seems to anticipate the arrival of certain technologies in the next 5-10 years, it is predictably Western-centric in its anticipation of tech adoption, and worse – it carries a strong weighting to what ABC1 families will be able to afford and educate their children in a way that they will be able or likely to embrace these technologies.

Charlie Stross notes when contemplating near future sci-fi that the future is, to all intents and purposes – 99% now. Some of the things we imagine as fantastical and futuristic today exists in a lab or in the homes of the ultra-wealthy. I remember reading about Bill Gates’ personalised, automated home 15 years ago – and today there still aren’t mass-market home-automation products of that ilk!

This is the fallacy that Booz & Co have fallen into, IMHO. These technologies will be there, but we’re facing an extended period of economic austerity today. That will mean some R&D budgets get cut and some product launches will be delayed. Look at LTE – for the last three years it was coming in 2011/12, and now some people are saying 2013/4. And who will pay the premium?

My fundamental issue is that between infrastructural challenges caused by austerity programmes and corporate conservatism, the growing divide between rich and poor amplified by growing inflation and increased taxation of the middle classes, we may actually see ‘Generation C’ as even more educationally fragmented than the preceding generation. There may be a high level of general tech literacy but as for more sophisticated use? That calls for more exposure, more support, more education. Not things we’re necessarily likely to see in an environment of increasing university fees, pinched spending in schools and high rates of inflation potentially limiting consumer spending on new technologies.

I interview grads every now and then and the most recent lot were born in the late 80s and early 90s. I find them to be as hit and miss as the grads of my generation, and every subsequent generation. Some had the good fortunate to be exposed to tech and embrace it, most people’s digital literacy starts and ends with Facebook.

But as I said, perhaps I’m turning into a cynical old man.