:cyberpunk: /the reality/

"The future has arrived; it's just not evenly distributed". - William Gibson

the reality

cyberpunk is fiction, but as time goes on it becomes fact. we now have things which seemed crazy, way-out, insane or impossible when first written and published.

the works of william gibson are a perfect example; although a great many other authors have made similar predictions. i originally broached this subject as part of a university assignment, which required just one source of ideas - gibson was it. but science fiction in general has long since been an inspiration for science fact. what someone reads about as a teenager may be the very thing they work to create later in life. besides that, many authors are simply good at extrapolating the way technology develops and the way people will pick it up and run with it.

The fiction The reality
A worldwide network of computers; plus the people who work, hack and play within that world. This seemed pretty far-fetched at the time. The Internet. It mirrors the fiction in various ways - the way people interact, the way it defies regulation, the way people invest so much into it.
Cybernetics/robotic implants in humans and other animals. Limb/organ replacements and sight restoration devices feature particularly prominently in fiction. We already have bionic limbs, pacemakes and dialysis machines. All of these devices are currently crude compared with fiction; but they do perform the function they are created for. Meanwhile progress on "sight for the blind" devices are announced in scientific journals every year.
Robots/cyborgs. Asimov is probably the canonical source of robot fiction; but plenty of others have approached the topic. While Asimov was often concerned about the logic which would drive a machine, others explored the idea of a machine which is just like a human. There are many serious robot research projects happening around the world. Limited robots are already available for purchase, such as Honda's humanoid robots and Sony's Aibo dogs. This ties in with the study of Artificial Intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence (AI). A computer or otherwise artificial entity which can pass the Turing Test - that is, return answers to questions which make them indistinguishable from a human answering the same questions. Chess champions and players around the world have been drawn into the battles between human and computer players. Each time they are pitted against each other, the AI gets a little tougher to beat. It would seem like it's only a matter of time before a true AI is created; but it also seems that it will take a serious departure from our current computing hardware/software/concepts to achieve realistic cognitive and empathetic abilities in an AI.
Organic limb/organ/body replacements; either grown or harvested. The world has already seen the first recipient of an arm transplant; while heart and kidney transplants have been a reality for years. Meanwhile scientists have been able to grow a human ear on the back of a mouse.
Cloning - particularly cloning humans. Animals have already been successfully cloned, the most famous being Dolly the sheep. Other researchers have asserted that it is feasible to clone a human; although nobody has yet claimed (credibly) to have done so. Most countries are scratching the surface of the ethical questions and banning human cloning in the meantime.
Genetic hacking - modifying DNA to suit your wants and needs. The idea of "designer babies" has become the realm of ethical debate; along with movies like Gattaca. We are getting to the stage where genetic "screening" is possible - picking the healthy embryo over another based on the presence of a bad gene. On the weirder edge of this idea is the "spidergoats and glowing bunnies", to quote a friend. Lab experiments have produced goats whos milk contains a kind of spiderweb, producing incredibly strong material. Rabits have been successfully bred with enough luminous material in their fur that they glow green when the lights are out. It's worth mentioning that non-genetic body modification has also produced some spectacular results.
Direct human/computer interfaces. For example Gibson's concept of "jacking in"; or CP2020's netrunners who plug their minds into their consoles. The University of Sydney patented the "Mind Switch", which allows a person to turn switches on and off purely through mental activity. Other successful experiments include moving a mouse cursor by picking up brain waves; or positioning a cursor by following eye movements.
Virtual Reality - total immersion environments, for purposes such as remote interaction and entertainment. Some fiction goes as far as having full feedback systems - you have all senses stimulated by the virutal environment. Prototype VR units have already been around for years as a form of game. These were primarily a three-dimensional environment with a full headset, handheld joystick and enclosed standing area for the participant. While crude, it marked progress in this area.
William Gibson's Idoru, a media idol who does not actually exist. A virtual movie star. Someone who is famous without being real. Sound far-fetched? It's already happened. Lara Croft was the precursor; the character becoming a sort of star before a human actress portrayed the role. Aki Ross from Final Fantasy is probably the first true idoru. FF was a completely CG movie and yet a character has fans, admirers and merchandise like a human star. There are anime characters with a similar following, but that seems a little different to me.
Mega-corporations. A lot of cyberpunk involves companies which are staggeringly large and powerful. They bend society around them and often seem beyond the law and any other kind of rule. Microsoft is the most spectacular example; also major telcos like Telstra and all the big banks. Less obviously there are huge parent companies, who slowly swallow their competition but leave the consumers thinking they're still buying in a competitive market. Examples: News Corporation, Coles-Myer, General Motors.
High-tech becoming commonplace in daily life. We carry mobile phones, mp3 players, keyring data storage devices, car immobilisers and microchip credit cards. We drive cars which are literally "fixed" by having components reprogrammed. Even basic appliances are becoming high-tech far beyond their basic funtion (think LG's internet fridge).
High-tech is available to just about anyone, but it doesn't solve anyone's problems. All kinds of high-tech devices, including computers, are becoming affordable for everyone (at least in developed nations). Third world countries have been influenced in bizarre ways - for example having to reject food aid because the corn was genetically modified and therefor ultimately illegal. A counterpoint is simple but clever tech helping those in need - wind up radios and LED study lamps are good examples.
Privacy disappears as it becomes impossible to go off the grid. Already our society is starting to realise that privacy has been lost. We are filmed by security cameras, tracked by our electronic purchases, details of our lives are stored in any number of databases. Some of us have our daily activities tracked by swiping in and out of the building you work in... even for a benign profession like web design. You can now have only relative privacy in your own home; unless you never phone anyone or get online, don't have a security system and don't use any kind of cable entertainment. If you do any of these things, other people can see what you're seeing/listening to as entertainment; know when you leave the house; know who you speak to.