Snow Crash and... The Future!



I've been rereading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, one of the most important cyberpunk novels, and almost certainly the most entertaining. As with any speculative science fiction, it's interesting to see what Stephenson got right, and what he got wrong.
 
The big concept in Snow Crash is the Metaverse, and in particular The Street. It's a VR community, where people are represented by customizable avatars. It sounds a lot like a MMORPG such as World of Warcraft, and there is even a program on The Street that allow for sword fighting between people.
 
The huge difference The Street and any real massively multiplayer game (or environment) is that the most important development that attracted people to The Street was the ability for the avatar's faces to reflect the emotions of the users. So far, that's the exact opposite of how online VR has been developing. Using the example of Warcraft, essentially all communication is still done with text. As the years have gone by internet text chat has developed its own protocols and customs for expressing emotions. Warcraft does have some primitive avatar emoting, based on simplistic triggers in the text chat. For example, if you type something that ends in a question mark, your onscreen character will shrug to signify asking a question. It isn't very realistic, mainly because the timing is way off. However, I suspect that the technology won't get much more advanced than the Warcraft model for a good while. We still don't have the bandwith to connect hundreds of thousands of people via audio to one server, let alone the kind of face-scanning Stephenson was postulating.
 
In the somewhat more amusing category, I'd be very surprised if Google Earth wasn't directly inspired by the Earth program Hiro uses in the novel. Though Google Earth is 2D and not updated live (or very often at all, judging from the 3-year old pictures of my neighborhood), but the concept is the same and it includes the same interface trick that results in you "diving" into the locations you're selecting.

Posted: Sun - August 6, 2006 at      


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