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Neal Stephenson Takes Blame For Innovation Failure

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the who's-to-blame dept.

Businesses 448

itwbennett writes "Neal Stephenson is shouldering some of the blame for discouraging budding scientists and engineers, saying in a interview that perhaps the dark turn science fiction has taken is 'discouraging budding scientists and engineers.' For his part, Stephenson has vowed to be more optimistic. From the article: 'Speaking before a packed lecture theater at MIT yesterday, Neal Stephenson worried that the gloomy outlook prevalent in modern science fiction may be undermining the genre's ability to inspire engineers and scientists. Describing himself as a "pessimist trying to turn himself into an optimist," and acknowledging that some of his own work has contributed to the dystopian trend, he added "if every depiction of the future is grim...then it doesn't create much of an incentive to building the future."'"

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Really? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39740919)

Inflated sense of self-worth alert

Re:Really? (2, Insightful)

multiben (1916126) | more than 2 years ago | (#39740977)

^This. Don't worry Neal, your works are, at best, forgettable distractions.

SciFi don't dictate what I love, or dis-love (5, Interesting)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741237)

I am an avid scifi freak

Have been reading scifi since 1960's, and still can't stop reading the stuff (including manga since late 1980's and animation nowadays)

But my love of Science didn't emerge from my scifi reading habit

My love of Science stems from my curiosity of what happens all around me

The scifi genre is just like any other, there are good ones and there are real lousy ones, but no matter how good or bad the scifi is, it will never encourage or discourage me from exploring

Nope, I just ain't gonna be influenced by a book

Re:SciFi don't dictate what I love, or dis-love (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741765)

Nope, I just ain't gonna be influenced by a book

I see that Strunk and White must have harmlessly bounced off the impenetrable fortress of your mind.

Re:SciFi don't dictate what I love, or dis-love (1, Insightful)

niftydude (1745144) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741769)

The scifi genre is just like any other, there are good ones and there are real lousy ones, but no matter how good or bad the scifi is, it will never encourage or discourage me from exploring

Nope, I just ain't gonna be influenced by a book

This. Especially not bad books. I quite enjoyed Cryptonomicon, and so right now I'm trying to read The Baroque Cycle.

What self-indulgent drivel it is. Pages and pages of History lessons than don't advance the plot at all, or even serve to improve the historical context. It is a case of: Neal read something interesting in a history book, and so is going to jam the detail into his prose regardless of whether it is relevant or useful.

His recent work is horrible. Neal has bought into his own celebrity and lost all sense of what made him a decent author. I bet the dude thinks each of his individual farts has a unique and pleasant aroma, and so is worth preserving for posterity.

And what innovation failure? I and the people around me have been innovating our asses off. I'm not going to self promote, but anyone in the world can go to http://scholar.google.com/ [google.com] and see all the incredible research that is going on if they want to.

Message to Neal: You ain't that influential.

Not necessiarly (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741065)

While I certainly wouldn't say one person bears a large load of responsibility, don't knock the idea in general. Star Trek had some very real influence on geeks. They saw a Utopia in it that they'd like to see happened, and some worked towards it. The cell phone really did get inspiration from Star Trek communicators. There was an interview with one of the guys at Motorola who worked on it saying something along the lines of how he saw the communicator not as an impossible sci-fi gadget, but as a challenge to make.

Media can influence culture, and sci-fi can for sure influence geeks. That doesn't mean that authors should necessarily take it on as some kind of personal responsibility, but there's something to be said for Utopian fiction and it does seem to be in somewhat short supply these days.

Re:Not necessiarly (5, Funny)

WaywardGeek (1480513) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741189)

Neal's books totally rock. He's one of the most influential sci-fi writers out there. There's exactly one book I read with my Dad, Cryptonomicon, and it was so cool that I build a hardware random number generator, and he wrote some software for one-time-pad encryption, and we had fun sending each other stupid e-mails that no one would ever be interested in decrypting, but they couldn't if they tried. Actually I sometimes wonder if our super-secure little unknown communication channel caused some poor NSA dweeb to have to listen to our phones for a year or two. If so... sorry!

Re:Not necessiarly (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741617)

Apology accepted.

Re:Not necessiarly (3, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741197)

Yesterday on Vermont Public Radio, Vermont Edition spoke with an author about the rise in "dark fiction" for youth. There were many good points brought up, but it got me thinking off in another direction...

As someone else here has mentioned, it isn't so much that there's dark fiction, there's always been dark fiction. I see a bigger problem in that the Utopian fiction (like Star Trek) has diminished. The overall tide has gotten significantly darker.

I remember as a kid my first real book was "20,000 Leagues Under the See", which while it had dark elements, was really typical turn-of-the-century Utopian science fiction. Shortly after that, the WW-III nuclear apocolypse stuff typical of the time started moving into the mix. But even as that and environmental disaster sci-fi mixed in, the Utopian stuff was still present.

To me the real tipping point seems to be as the "corporate dystopia" of which William Gibson and Cyberpunk was part. Around that time, the Utopian sci-fi started dropping off. In more recent years, I've started seeing more "end times" sci-fi, too. (Think "Terminal World", "Feersum Endjin", "The City at the End of Time", "Spin", to name a few.) Peter F. Hamilton and Iain Banks are still pretty optimistic, though with the latter, in "State of the Art" he made it pretty clear that Earth is not part of "The Culture."

No, Stephenson isn't to blame, but he's participated in the problem, and hasn't been part of the solution.

Personally, I think if the swinging pendulum, hope we're pretty much at the limit of the swing, and hope the whole system hasn't gone nonlinear or fallen off its bearings.

Re:Not necessiarly (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741407)

To me the real tipping point seems to be as the "corporate dystopia" of which William Gibson and Cyberpunk was part.

I recently ran into someone I hadn't seen for years, who used to be heavily into cyberpunk back in those days. I asked him how that was going, and he doesn't read or cosplay any of that any more. I asked why, and he said, "It's not fun any more, it's coming true."

Re:Not necessiarly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741429)

The problem I see with Star Trek is that it depicted almost everything that can be Utopian and it burned people out. A government that dealt with almost no crime within its borders. Problems within the border are solved with words. Border conflicts that can be deflected with scientific vessels. etc.

Even Star Trek started steering away from Utopia with the Dominion Wars. The Federation started developing warships along side scientific vessels. Voyager tossing out solid Federation principles (with no consequences dished out when they returned because oh you were stranded.) Trekyes can probably remember even more examples.

The pattern I see with Utopia based reading material is it places the Utopia into the next great society. Jules Verne tossed it in upcoming mechanical gadgets that connected continents. Gene Roddenberry tossed it into circuits and space travel connecting solar systems. Where's the next place to toss the utopian ideal and with what unfathomable stuff should be packed around it?

I think it is more like horror. (4, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741507)

Horror works by capturing the fears of the majority at that point in time.

Afraid of losing your job to a machine?
Robot horror fiction.

Afraid of being nuked by an enemy country?
Radiation mutant horror fiction.

Afraid of losing your middle class status?
Dystopian future horror fiction.

To correct the horror fiction you need to "fix" the underlying fear that is feeding it.

Re:I think it is more like horror. (4, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741615)

Don't argue, but I see the role of Utopian fiction as injecting some hope.

Re:I think it is more like horror. (2)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741801)

"All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects."

Re:I think it is more like horror. (2)

Intropy (2009018) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741673)

Overcrowding?
Zombies.

Re:Not necessiarly (4, Informative)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741775)

To me the real tipping point seems to be as the "corporate dystopia" of which William Gibson and Cyberpunk was part.

Earlier than that.

Try Philip K Dick or Harlan Ellison for size.

Re:Not necessiarly (2)

bdabautcb (1040566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741879)

My first Bible was 20,000 Leagues Under the Holy See.

Re:Not necessiarly (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741323)

Shut the fuck up, you stupid emo fuck

Re:Not necessiarly (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741341)

There was an interview with one of the guys at Motorola who worked on it saying something along the lines of how he saw the communicator not as an impossible sci-fi gadget, but as a challenge to make.
 
Media can influence culture, and sci-fi can for sure influence geeks.

The problem is - work on mobile telephony long predates Star Trek. The first car phones were deployed in 1946! Not only that, but mobile communicators in SF predate Star Trek as well - witness the systems used by the crew of the Bellerephon in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. Star Trek may have inspired him personally to work on the project, but I have no reason to doubt the handheld phones were coming with or without him or Star Trek - the trend had already been visible for decades.

Re:Not necessiarly (3, Interesting)

Trogre (513942) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741729)

The cell phone really did get inspiration from Star Trek communicators. There was an interview with one of the guys at Motorola who worked on it saying something along the lines of how he saw the communicator not as an impossible sci-fi gadget, but as a challenge to make.

I always thought that was inspired by Maxwell Smart's shoe phone. Indeed, many baby boomers use the term "shoe phone" to refer to cell phones.

Re:Not necessiarly (4, Interesting)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741835)

It seems more to me that themes in fiction tend to pick up the overall "attitude" of the society with respect to progress (and other things), rather than the other way around. There's probably some amplification effect from that, like your example with the engineer, but if you look at the timelines, progressive utopian fiction was generally following up on series of scientific breakthroughs - e.g. Star Trek was riding the wave of new tech with roots in WW2 that got appropriated for peaceful purposes. Before it, think of Jules Verne - sure, he did predict a lot of things to come, but his books were based more on the progress that he observed in his time.

For another example, in the country of my birth - the USSR - science fiction (even of the "unofficial", underground kind) was largely optimistic. It had its share of social dystopias early on (like "We"), but after 60s or so, when the horrors of revolution and NKVD became history, no-one could come up with a credible "bad" scenario: the future was universally seen as a time of better things to come due to rapid scientific progress. After the country crashed, Russian sci-fi reacted by turning all doom and gloom: not even sci-fi dystopias, but alt history of all things became the most prolific genre...

With that in mind, the current trend of dystopian sci-fi likely just reflects the overall "meh" attitude towards the prospects of our scientific development. I do wonder what the zombie stories are all about, though...

Re:Not necessiarly (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741885)

Philip K. Dick had some 'very real' influence as well, and most of it was very pessimistic. But that didn't stop scientific research or innovation. It just led to some great sci-fi noir films.

I believe that Stephenson's commentary about society's use of scientific innovation is right-on, but I don't believe for a second that his, or any other fiction writer's, influence on the minds that make scientific research or development happen will every be profound. If it was then the researchers who were behind that atomic and hydrogen bombs would have ceased their efforts when it was clear that WWII had been won by the allies, instead of leaving such incredibly destructive and influencial technology in the hands of military and political 'leaders'.

Re:Really? (1)

identity0 (77976) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741135)

I, presonally, blame George Lucas.

Speilberg may be a co-consiprator.

Re:Really? (2)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741225)

It is not an inflated sense of self-worth that is the loci of his statements, but rather a sense of social responsibility that is so rare in this consumer-based society that it is in danger of becoming extinct.

He has a valid point; most scifi today portrays a dystopian world, but that is not commentary on the future, but rather the present. The fictional writings of an era have always been heavily influenced by the emotions which surround the writers. Artists have long been the canary down the mine shaft... an early warning of impending social malaise.

Re:Really? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741443)

Your comment is poopy.

Re:Really? (5, Insightful)

ATMAvatar (648864) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741575)

If you were to ascribe blame to any particular group for the perceived slowing of innovation, the best target would be the lawyers. A dystopian future story pales in comparison to a stampeding herd of patent lawyers when it comes to stifling scientific and technological progress.

You can't even daydream about something new without getting sued for infringing multiple patents anymore.

Re:Really? (2)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741759)

more people have read Stephson's books than have used desktop Linux.

I doubt that's true (3, Insightful)

pluther (647209) | more than 2 years ago | (#39740929)

I think you're off the hook Mr. Stephenson.

Remember all those people who caused the tech boom of the 90s grew up during a time when post-apocalyptic fiction was one of the most popular genres.

Between the cold war and the religious mania of the early 80s, "If Jesus doesn't get you, Oppenheimer will" was the phrase of the day.

But a lot of people still went into science and engineering...

Someone needs to smack his head. (4, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741021)

He's focused too much on America.
From TFA:

In fact, said Stephenson, we already have much of the fundamental technology we need to fulfill such science fiction ambitions as large scale solar power production, or routine space flight.

Let's see what happens when China gets a man (or woman) on the moon.

We've accomplished all the easy, flashy stuff.

Now comes the not-as-easy-as-before-but-still-possible stuff. Like the first man (or woman) on Mars. Even if it is a one way trip for now.

We're not focused on it because it takes the resources of at least one nation to do so. And we've already set the bar (man on the moon). But there are other nations.

Re:Someone needs to smack his head. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741157)

Going to the moon with 1960s technology could be called flashy, but it was in no way "easy." Even forty years later, it is difficult to repeat. Maybe I misunderstood you, but dismissing everything already done as "easy" seems like serious arrogance.

Re:I doubt that's true (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741045)

They would have grown-up watching the original Star Trek (me, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates) or the Next Generation Trek (younger folks). Those were both very positive influences showing that technology will improve the human condition. In fact given the ratings of 10% of U.S. households (about 9 million homes), I bet more people were watching trek than reading the negative sci-fi novels.

Re:I doubt that's true (5, Interesting)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741103)

Between the cold war and the religious mania of the early 80s, "If Jesus doesn't get you, Oppenheimer will" was the phrase of the day.

I find that a grim outlook actually makes me dig my heels in much more so. Five years ago, I wasn't too engrossed with privacy, politics or anything like that. These days, I seem to be going out of my way to make noise and generate resolve amoung the population. I think there is an element of Ying/Yang to it, the harder certain people will push to empower themselves or the folks that pay them, the more people will stand their ground.

"Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." - Che.

Re:I doubt that's true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741619)

Nice sentiment, but Che was a full on asshole.

He ordered people executed, for abandoning his retarded people's revolution (finger quotes galore).

He was a childish, unrealistic douchebag pawn of Castro. And it cost him his life. Oh well, at least he shows up on t-shirts and the occasional dimbulb /. posting.

Lawyers (5, Funny)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#39740933)

He can try to claim credit, but I'm fairly sure lawyers are far more directly responsible, probably with MBA's being a close second.

Re: Neal Stephenson? (4, Funny)

qubezz (520511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741657)

I didn't know who he is, but from the "discouraging budding scientists and engineers" quote, I figured he was probably the creator of Jersey Shore or 16 and Pregnant, or a basketball commissioner.

China and India are doing the discouraging (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39740969)

Seriously Mr. Stephenson. When China and Indian students flood into science and engineering, and generate a large decline in income and societal status, is it any surprise there is a decline of American students in engineering?

Re:China and India are doing the discouraging (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741063)

I'm not worried about the flood of foreign engineering and science students graduating from mediocre "universities" in China or India, considering a large majority of them aren't able to retain and apply what they learned, if they learned anything at all.

Re:China and India are doing the discouraging (3, Interesting)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741163)

You must live on an isolated mountaintop somewhere. The Indian and Chinese scientists and engineers I have worked with for decades have all been top notch, including all the new ones coming in now.

Re:China and India are doing the discouraging (1)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741427)

I have no experience of the work of Chinese developers, but I've seen a lot of work from many different Indian developers and its pretty much all been a horrible clueless mess.

Re:China and India are doing the discouraging (3, Insightful)

Prosthetic_Lips (971097) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741581)

I would have to disagree.

While I have seen my share of bad foreign code, there have also been excellent foreign coders.

The difference, I think, is who is "selling" of the coding services. Think of the most slimy American used car salesman (sorry to my friends that are in car sales! Not talking about you!!), and imagine he is selling programming "talent" in another country. He knows that he just has to get his foot in the door and make a sale, and he makes his commission. So, he gets some mediocre (at best) talent, promises the world, all for a vastly lower bid than any American company. Unfortunately, by the time you realize how bad it is (software takes a while to specify and begin to see results, unfortunately), he is already at the next place selling the same bad programmers.

its pretty good for India and China (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741145)

i mean, thats kind of the point of a 'free market' - it shouldnt matter what country you come from as long as you do the job well.

Fuck Neal Stephenson! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39740979)

Read Douglas Adams instead, losers! And get the fuck off my lawn!

A Neal Stephenson Story right after a Turing Story (3, Funny)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 2 years ago | (#39740981)

If a Douglas MacArthur story shows up any time soon, I'm dumping everything outta The Crypt.

WTF dude (5, Insightful)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39740983)

"the gloomy outlook prevalent in modern science fiction may be undermining the genre's ability to inspire engineers and scientists."

or maybe its the fact you can get a business degree out of a box of crackerjacks and make more money with much less work sitting on your ass as a manager.

agreed (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741285)

Optimistic scientist-inspiring fiction, if it does inspire anyone to pick that career path, will only set them up for a very unpleasant encounter with reality. As they vainly struggle for grant money while living of the pittance they can pull from what funding lingers form their last project, they will look with envy at all the far-less-intelligent people who are walking down the street in nice suits with hot wives and a child or two, and their spirit will eventually break.

Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39740991)

This dude needs to get over himself. Snow Crash was a long time ago.

Re:Huh? (1)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741169)

Yeah, and I bet it motivated more kids to go into tech so they don't end up as pizza delivery guys. That's one dangerous damn job.

Re:Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741175)

If that's the only Neal Stephenson you've read then I think you've missed his best stuff. Diamond Age was at least as interesting, and imo Cryptonomicon was better than either.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741685)

Diamond Age was at least as interesting, and imo Cryptonomicon was better than either.

Cryptonomicon had a lot of interesting bits, but also a LOT of fat. Man, what a slog that book was to read!

By contrast, I couldn't stop turning the pages of Snow Crash.

He's missed the mark so far (3, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39740993)

For all his 80s and early 90s doom-and-gloom fiction, the future turned out to be pretty bright. TV and radio media is dying-out, being replaced with the instant gratification of the internet media. No need to wait until 8 o'clock to see your favorite show; or wait for MTV to play your favorite song; just watch it now online.

People are talking directly to one another (okay typing to one another) and no longer believing the lies/blatant omissions coming from the old media. The press is once again the people, where it belonged all along. Things are being revealed that were never talked about before.

We now have computers that fit in our pockets, but are ~1000 times faster than the computer Mr. Stephensen used to type his novels. Instead of being confined to just our local community of friends, we can met people of similar interests across the continent. (I've met all kinds of people through facebook -- common goal: Restore the bill of rights. End the wars. Balance the budget.)

No the future's not perfect, but certainly better than the "I feel like slitting my wrist" future described by Neal.

Re:He's missed the mark so far (5, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741181)

Gadget wise we're doing better.

Real income for the majority of Americans and Europeans, the structure of society, the fundamentals of the economy, our infrastructure - not so much.

Not to mention the upcoming specter of resource wars and our ever increasing tendencies towards a police state.

We've changed our view of the apocalypse from nuclear Armageddon to the "Hunger Games" but it's still not a very rosy future.

Re:He's missed the mark so far (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741357)

Gadget wise we're doing better.

I don't think I can buy a gargoyle suit a la Snow Crash or really any sort of fully immersive VR equipment on the level of Snow Crash. Nor do I think we have nuclear(?) powered dog robots that need to live in chilled kennels.

Also I am reasonably certain we don't have household nanotechnology or interactive novels which evolve with our choices and grows with us to teach us everything we need and then some a la Diamond Age.

Haven't read his other books of that period in the futuristic realm. Only really read those two, Cryptonomicon, Anathem, and the Baroque Cycle. (/stroke e-peen for reading)

Re:He's missed the mark so far (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741387)

No need to wait until 8 o'clock to see your favorite show; or wait for MTV to play your favorite song; just watch it now online.

Indeed - I just got finished watching a TV episode I TIVO'ed last week. In the middle of the night without having to remember to set the clock or put a tape in either.
 

People are talking directly to one another (okay typing to one another) and no longer believing the lies/blatant omissions coming from the old media. The press is once again the people, where it belonged all along.

Instead, they're believing the lies and blatant omissions coming from the new media... The press hasn't "returned to the people", but rather it has returned to an older era - where every news source took sides and had it's political slant and didn't even pretend to unbiased or accurate. The technology has changed, but people haven't.

Re:He's missed the mark so far (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741441)

>>>where every news source took sides and had it's political slant and didn't even pretend to unbiased or accurate

GOOD. I'd rather have obvious bias that I can see, rather than a TV media falsely-claiming "we are not biased" while they push the pro-government or pro-corporate agenda.

Re:He's missed the mark so far (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741467)

People are talking directly to one another (okay typing to one another) and no longer believing the lies/blatant omissions coming from the old media.

Instead, they're believing lies/blatant omissions from the mob or a popular internet personality.

Ugh (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741007)

The people who think about becoming scientists are actually smart enough to discern at a relatively young age between sci-fi and reality. Survey how many smart kids who saw "Blade Runner" found that movie disenfranchised them about the future, or whether they just thought it was really cool.
 
To some extent people don't want to be scientists because as a society we tend to devalue or outcast smart people and our children pick up on that, but to a larger extent it's because many scientists and engineers are severely underpaid for the many years of studying and training it takes to get in the field. One of my friends has spent 7 years of education, getting her Master's and PhD from one of the top schools in the country and having her thesis put in a top journal, and is now getting paid less than I made my first year as a severely underpaid software engineer at a start-up. She could have skipped school entirely and gone into the plumbing trade and her lifetime earnings would have improved. What do you expect when that's the case? (Also, many of the claims that we lack scientists and engineers are actually corporations who mean we lack cheap scientists and engineers, and are vying for H1Bs.)

Stephenson should feel safe in the knowledge that he has not affected budding scientists and engineers in that way, and thankfully most of them will never have to deal with his writing that's as self-important as he seems to be. (After reading a little of his work, I thought/hoped I was done with him. Now he finds another way to be pompous and annoying.)

I went into academia to help the world help itself (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741011)

...I left academia when I discovered that the world doesn't want to help itself, but to destroy itself with a new global religion called "the free market", being neither free nor much of a market.

But gEarth! (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741017)

But, as you (painstakingly) reminded us in Reamde, you invented Google Earth. So there's that.

I do blame you, though, for inspiring more geeks to goldbuggery. Tsk tsk.

Me Thinks Thou Dost Overrate One's Self (5, Insightful)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741019)

Seriously -- Snow Crash was alright and had it's place but Neal Stephenson is far from the technological catalyst he thinks he is.
And frankly Neal should get stuffed for failing to recognize the darkness and dire warnings embedded in many of H.G. Well's stories that still have relevance today. If H.G. Wells can't stall progress and innovation -- who the hell is Neal to say he's even partly to blame?

What I am convinced of is that I will never bother to read a single other book by Neal Stephenson -- I couldn't make it half way through Cryptonomicon before it got too boring and painfully long winded to read and Reamde, while at least starting out at a faster clip quickly devolved into a complete pile of contrived claptrap complete with Russian Mobsters who feel the need to explain themselves, a British Intelligence Agent who bangs everything she can and a Jihadi Terrorist who could double as a CNN Anchor.

Perhaps we should tattoo "Massive Ego" to Neal's forehead.

Re:Me Thinks Thou Dost Overrate One's Self (1)

ISoldat53 (977164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741067)

Life's too short to read Stephenson.

Re:Me Thinks Thou Dost Overrate One's Self (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741079)

I quite liked Anathem and Diamond Age. If you enjoyed Snow Crash, you may also appreciate them.

Re:Me Thinks Thou Dost Overrate One's Self (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741693)

Consider that his books aren't necessarily shaping an attitude skepticism towards the future of science, but a mainstream reminder that our future with science and technology is really uncertain.

And though the world is only a decade and a half into using the greatest technological tool as yet created, the Internet, look at how much the historical repetition of censorship is trying to stifle it. More so now, than ever before. DMCA was passed, but we got SOPA killed. Now CISPA is here, and even if we kill CISPA, something else will inevitably be promoted. I don't attribute that to Stephenson at all, however when futuristic popular story-telling reminds us of that uncertainty that IS going on in present day, it's easy to make the connection.

But (5, Funny)

sayfawa (1099071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741029)

I only became a scientist so that I could be the one in control of a futuristic dystopia. Mind controls, genome engineered slaves, soylent, high-tech games to the death. I was really excited!

But maybe that's just me.

Re:But (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741199)

Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, welcome to Slashdot!

Bring in a new Star Trek (3, Insightful)

bug_hunter (32923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741049)

Bring in a new Star Trek so we can have a sense of adventure and hope with future technology.
Enough with the arrogant scientist tries to invent new source of power / robots / travel and causes mass explosions / killer robots / aliens to kill us all.
Various treks did have issues with casting, plot, time-travel/hollodeck episodes, but it still always made me feel good about tomorrow.

hooray for a global military dictatorship? (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741119)

i dont think so. i rather think freedom of speech is not just a recreational activity, it is vital to the ongoing survival of the human species. same for the other rights that suffer when all of space is controlled by a military dictatorship, aka, 'the federation'

Re:hooray for a global military dictatorship? (4, Informative)

NiteShaed (315799) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741379)

same for the other rights that suffer when all of space is controlled by a military dictatorship, aka, 'the federation'

You fail at Star Treks. The government is the United Federation of Planets, which has an elected President and representitves. It's not much different than today's democratic governments. Starfleet is the military/exploration arm of the Federation. Please turn in your geek card.

With all due respect... (2)

jejones (115979) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741097)

Mr. Stephenson, you're just part of a much larger bunch. Technophobic literature and movies have been around for a long time. The mad scientist has been a stock character since Frankenstein, and these days he's usually combined with today's other knee-jerk evildoer, the businessman. George Lucas wanting to show technology defeated by cute, fuzzy little commercial tie-ins probably had a lot more effect than your writings--again, with all due respect, and no indication of relative quality implied.

How many films these days are masturbatory fantasies for the greens? Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Day After Tomorrow, The Hunger Games.... or TV series, like the History Channel's Life After Humans.

All that said, you're right to the extent that you're certainly not helping. Once upon a time, Lloyd Biggle Jr. accurately said, as best I can recall, "Given a bunch of people in a sewer, mainstream literature will lovingly describe those who are content to stay there. Science fiction will write about those trying to get out." That's at best less true than it was.

Re:With all due respect... (2, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741137)

I think a large part of the blame must go to publishers, who have apparently only been interested in 'literary' SF about dark characters (preferably written by raving socialists) over the last few years. This is probably why 60% of the best-selling SF e-books on Amazon were self-published, last I checked.

Tighten UP!!!! (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741099)

Stephenson is really great but he needs to tighten his prose up, big time! I'm a fan, but it's obvious he could cut a LOT of the fat out of his books.

Re:Tighten UP!!!! (1)

Pesticidal (1148911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741265)

No way! The fat is what separates the nerds from the riff-raff. I'm hoping that REAMDE isn't just the start of an attempt to appeal to the mainstream.

Re:Tighten UP!!!! (2)

Altus (1034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741779)

What he need to do is learn how to end a story.

zamyatin begs to differ (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741107)

he was a pessimist because he was a realist, and quite a lot of the stuff he wrote about came true.

if we had more pessimists in the 1930s, the world would be in a lot better place.

who were the optimists? they were the 'futurists', and they were allied with this new thing in italy called 'fascism' - the glorification of the machine of state, and the state of the machine.

what is optimism in this age? "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela. "My Country and the World" by Andrei Sakharov. "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan et al.

Re:zamyatin begs to differ (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741875)

So, what predictions in "We" came true?

And not all "futurists" were fascists, you know. Not by a long shot.

Re:zamyatin begs to differ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741883)

what is optimism in this age? "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela.

Indeed, one can't help but look at modern day Johannesburg and not be filled with an overwhelming sense of optimism. And a few stray bullets.

Pretty funny timing... (5, Interesting)

trawg (308495) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741121)

...given programming legend Michael Abrash (now currently at Valve Software) just announced that he's currently researching wearable computing more or less as a direct result of Neal Stephenson's book Snow Crash!

His post [valvesoftware.com] on the Valve blog is really interesting and worth reading.

Not technophobic (1)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741129)

Human-phobic.

I think there's ample evidence that technology is wonderful but the people using it just suck.

Tech is advancing but our species isn't. We invented sharpened sticks to hit each other with to win food and mates and just generally let loose our ape rage.

Now we use integrated circuits. Same shit.

Bad Summary! (1)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741131)

No need to "reply" to Neal Stephenson that he is not personally responsible.

Guess I'm Reading it Wrong (5, Insightful)

paleo2002 (1079697) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741151)

I've always gotten the impression that the dark and dystopian futures prevalent in cyberpunk and related genres are the result of corruption and abuse of the power and potential of technology. They are a warning against what technology can become if not applied responsibly. Most tech-heavy sci-fi ends up being a warning against potential results of some new science and technology.

Snow Crash . . . is basically reality now . . . Diamond Age is a better example. It portrayed two opposing views of nano tech implementation: centralized vs. decentralized production. Either way it demonstrated the potential of nanotechnology. And, hey, now we have people building 3D printers in garages and using them to make toys for their kids rather than enslave the underclass.

Don't get me wrong... (1)

Nationless (2123580) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741171)

Don't get me wrong, I love his work.. But that's like saying The Terminator discourages roboticists from picking up a screwdriver. If anything it's spawned more because of the awareness of the field and how much of an influence it would have on our lives today.

He couldn't be more wrong. (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741187)

The futures grim, but it has jack squat to do with science fiction stories. Instead it has to do with the cold hard realities of outsourcing and a lack of jobs. People don't want to go into a field without a future, especially when the people who would go into such a field tend to be more logic bound than passion bound to begin with. Why would anyone go into a field when society places no value in doing so?

Re:He couldn't be more wrong. (3, Insightful)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741375)

>> People don't want to go into a field without a future

I can't think of a field that has more effect in making a more interesting future than software development. Well maybe stuff to do with physics and/or genetics but even that usually comes down to relying on software somehow.

>> Why would anyone go into a field when society places no value in doing so?

Because they love the work?
Personally I went into software development because I couldn't conceive of doing anything else. The fact it pays better than average (or even at all) was entirely coincidental and lucky for me. It truly wasn't a factor in my career decision making. As a matter of fact I don't think I ever really made a decision to be a developer, as much as just continued to do what I do.

I've observed that nearly always, people that choose software development only because they think it pays well:
a) Have no intuitive feel for it, so mostly dont even understand how or why to write good code, let alone actually ever do it.
b) Are often unhappy at work.
c) Have changed their career path radically at least once.

These type of people need to get into sales or something ASAP because their low quality work just gives the rest of us who are career professionals a bad image, and they will ultimately flunk out on their own anyway given enough time.

Pessimist (4, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741207)

>> a "pessimist trying to turn himself into an optimist,"

Yeah right, like that's gonna happen.

I'm more discouraged by his employer (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741219)

I'm more discouraged by Stephenson's working for patent troll 'Intellectual Ventures' [mac.com] .

I miss cyberpunk. (1)

netsavior (627338) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741249)

Dystopian or not, it always struck me as starkly pro-technology.

I'd say religion more to blame (1)

Grayhand (2610049) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741269)

When I was growing up in the 60s the only ones in the school that didn't believe in evolution and the Earth being billions of years old were the couple of jehovah witness kids. Now we have members of Congress proudly proclaiming they are Creationists. Roughly a quarter to a third of the country is anti science which is a huge number of potential scientists and futurists. I'm sure many will pointy out that they aren't the mostly likely candidates for scientists but that's not entirely true because some scientists are calling themselves Creationists. Add to this the end of the world belief a lot of religious extremists have and it no wonder many see a bleak future. I'm not blaming it all on religion there's a lot of doom in gloom in most of the likely future predictions. I'm saying that I think religion is having a bigger impact than bleak scifi stories.

Snow Crash = Google Earth (3, Informative)

netsavior (627338) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741299)

Nevermind the fact that Snow Crash inspired Google Earth [realityprime.com]
It's not like that software is used by anyone.

Previously on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741313)

BAARGH I HATE THE FUTURE! *future* This place is fucking AWESOME!

yuo Fail 4It (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741359)

It's best to try were taken over 40,,00 workstations spot when done For FOR A LIVING GOT we all know,

1984 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741361)

Was probably just another government project, designed to help us become familiar/at-ease with the future to come, huh?

Phillip Jecty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741369)

I have no idea what he is talking about.

As you can tell from my moniker... (2)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741477)

I am a fan of some of his works. Actually, I'm a fan of good sci fi literature in general but "Snow Crash" is among my favorites. I have yet to read the sequel. Anyway, I think its noble but misguided for him to foot some of the blame because I don't see how it could in any way shape or form be his fault. His novels are often dark and distopian but I never came away thinking his novels convey a message to eschew science and technology.

dystopian sells (3, Insightful)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741495)

A good story needs some source of conflict; otherwise, there's just nothing to talk about. For hard science fiction, generally, the science and technology is going to be a primary focus of the novel; the author invents a setting and visualizes how real actors would respond in such a setting. Thus, the setting drives the plot. Therefore, it's only natural that the technology is going to be a source of tension. If you look for other sources of tension, like interpersonal problems, then you might just end up with a space opera.

Re:dystopian sells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741753)

I really liked Issac Asimov's work as a kid, it was always very optimistic.

Is the diamond age really so dystopian? (2)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741553)

Sorry, but, the over-the-top story aside, I find the diamond age to be rather an utopia than anything else.
I wouldn't care to much if the world went that way.
Just give me my matter compiler. :-)

A post copyright world looks bright (1, Interesting)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741609)

Dystopian pessimistic works of sci-fi? There are warnings, and then there's just plain unwarranted slasher sci-fi. The Cold War saw a lot of post nuclear apocalypse settings. While some of the ideas (fish and boulders still raining down from a turbulent sky years later on the pitiful remnants of humanity) didn't hold up if indeed they ever made any sense back then, on the whole, these warnings were of incalculable value if they in any way helped persuade politicians not to turn the Cold War hot. For the latter, there are things like the Jupiter Effect, devastatingly destructive comet dust, and, dare I suggest, Snow Crash. Independence Day had a feel good element to it, but was a turkey. I haven't read Cat's Cradle, but from what I know of Vonnegut, I'm supposing Ice 9 is satire about the very thing I'm complaining about. Clarke regretted using psychic phenomena in Childhood's End. The trouble with a Mathusian novel such as The Mote in God's Eye is that it makes a big deal out of a problem that nature solved billions of years ago. However, it may be that our unprecedented advances have reopened this problem. Many of the natural mechanisms that prevent such catastrophic collapses, such as isolation and predation, don't seem to apply to us. Today, the idea of falling off the edge of the world is quaint and not taken seriously because (excepting a few cretins) we know worlds are not flat. Malthusian ideas may fall into that category in the future as we discover more mechanisms that prevent that. Grey goo and Jurassic Park are more plausible, but they get dramatic and push the idea to extremes that are ludicrous. If a single T. Rex somehow got loose, it wouldn't last an hour. Soon as modern weapons can be brought to bear, it's dead.

There's also too-good-to-be-true sci-fi. The ramifications of the Star Trek transporter is one of those things that the story writers mostly refused to pursue because its powers would wreck havoc on the entire setting, to say nothing of the plots. Who needs a doctor when you can just beam from one pad to an adjacent pad, leaving behind any infectious agents and repairing any bodily damage, including aging?

I've noticed that one thing sci-fi is out of touch with is copyright, and it seems deliberate. I suspect traditional publishers take a real dim view of any futuristic novel that has free copying as part of the setting. Star Trek con man Mudd is chastised for ignoring patents and copyrights. In Hyperion, which won SF awards, one of the characters is an author who wrote a work that was a big hit with AI computers. In the story, the computers paid for just 1 copy and handled distribution themselves. His publisher comments that copyright doesn't mean shit when dealing with AI. I don't know of any serious work that attempts to paint a dystopian future caused by the breakdown of copyright. If there was such a work, it'd make a fine example of stupidly dark sci-fi.

Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741653)

Well, that's certainly one POSSIBILITY that dark sci-fi makes people not want to go into science... but a more realistic reason is seeing how anything you make can be stolen by patent trolls or big companies who will bankrupt you in court after taking your idea and refusing to pay you. There's not a bright future for making things, those who do will be (and are now largely) an exploited class, while the opportunity is to be part of the big companies doing so.

The legal system won't look out for the little guy, THAT's why science will go downhill, theft is the new, easy "R&D".

reading the news is what makes one a pessimist (1)

jdogalt (961241) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741833)

Pessimistic Sci-Fi IMHO is an attempt, through social communication of complex ideas, to effect changes within society, that would have the result of turning the pessimistic author into a more optimistic person.

On the other hand... (2)

Leuf (918654) | more than 2 years ago | (#39741889)

George RR Martin is doing a good job of making us not want to let the world go back to a feudal society. Or have dragons. Apparently before you can take over the world with them first you have to raise them and send them to college and 8000 pages later you still haven't done anything with them.

I'll tell you what discourages me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39741917)

Lack of assistantships to fund graduate school, and lack of scientist jobs after getting a PhD. That's what discourages me from becoming a scientist!

And I really fucking want to, too!

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