2010: Cyberpunk World

Speaking as a neutral observer with exactly zero opinion on any political question, and not even a cyberpunk reader given that I’ve read about two such novels in my life: Is it just me, or do the last few months’ global news headlines read like they were ghostwritten by Neal Stephenson?

I wonder if we may look back on 2010 as the year it became widely understood that we now live in a cyberpunk world. Many of 2010’s top stories read like sci-fi:

  • Stuxnet: Sovereign nations (apparently) carry out successful attacks on each other with surgically crafted malware — viruses and worms that target specific nuclear facilities, possibly causing more damage and delay to their targets’ weapons programs than might have been achieved with a conventional military strike.
  • Wikileaks: Stateless ‘Net organizations operating outside national laws fight information battles with major governments, up to and including the strongest industrial and military superpowers. The governments react by applying political pressure to powerful multinational corporations to try to force the stateless organizations off the ‘Net and cut off their support and funding, but these efforts succeed only temporarily as the target keeps moving and reappearing.
  • Anonymous: Small vigilante groups of private cybergunners retaliate by (or just latch onto a handy excuse to go) carrying out global attacks on the websites of multinational corporations, inflicting enough damage on Visa and Mastercard to temporarily take them off the ‘Net, while being repelled by cyberfortresses like Amazon and Paypal that have stronger digital defenses. But before we get too confident about Amazon’s strength, remember that this definitely ain’t the biggest attack they’ll ever see, just a 21st-century-cyberwar hors d’oeuvre: Who were these global attackers? About 100 people, many of them teenagers.
  • Assange: Charismatic cyberpersonalities operating principally on the ‘Net live as permanent residents of no nation, and roam the world (until arrested) wherever they can jack in, amid calls for their arrest and/or assassination.
  • Kinect: Your benevolent (you hope) living room game console can see you. Insert obligatory Minority Report UIs no longer sci-fi line here, with optional reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Other: Never mind that organized crime has for years now been well-known to be behind much of the phishing, spam, card skimming, and other electronic and ‘Net crimes. Not new to 2010, but seeing a significant uptick in the continued transition from boutique crime to serious organization and spear-phishing targeting specific high-profile organizations including the U.S. military.

Over the coming months and years, it will be interesting to see how multinational corporations and sovereign governments react to what some of them no doubt view as a new stateless — transnational? extranational? supernational? — and therefore global threat to their normal way of doing business.

14 thoughts on “2010: Cyberpunk World

  1. There were more things worth mentioning under “Other” though not unique to 2010 specifically, but a big one has to be that a great share of stock trading is now done by algorithms, including attacks based on manipulating network latency and algorithms that are designed to deliberately slow down other algorithms, and that high frequency trading firms are shouldering each other out of the way to get a prime location inside the same building as the exchange because it’s a competitive advantage compared to being just across the street… because the delay caused by those few feet at lightspeed makes a difference. Shudder. (I’m not sure whether “house of cards” or “tinderbox” is the better analogy, but at any rate that would be straying into active commentary rather than just passive observation and reporting.)

  2. I think you pretty much nailed it. Good work (especially about people who are less citizens of countries and nations than they are of the Net).

  3. Hello,

    I am a french journalist working on OWNI.fr, a online magazine dealing with the digital society, among other topics. I have appreciated this post and would like to translate it into french, do you allow us ? If you do, we will create you an author account and link to the source of course.
    Thank you in anticipation,
    Sabine Blanc

  4. I was thinking more William Gibson as opposed to Neil Stephenson, but fair enough. Either way, sit back and enjoy the show. Things should get pretty interesting in the next few years.

  5. and much might be added about AI, which developments are much more discreet, yet i bet not bet slower (singularity…, is almost other issue)

    now reading Greg Egan’s Quarantine… telling.

  6. I agree that we are living in a cyberpunk world but there’s always room for improvement.
    A true cp world and living to me will be fully achieved and real when our reality mirrors the one depicted in the Ghost in the Shell universe.

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