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The first time I met Eric Drexler, I complained to him, “You’ve ruined science fiction for me.”  (He replied, “If it’s any consolation, I ruined it for myself.”)

The reason, of course, is that understanding nanotech means that the all the classic SF projections become so piddling and simplistic in comparison that any story set after, say, 2050, looks ridiculously anachronistic, as if it had been written by Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.

The more technologically advanced the presentation of SF gets, as in the technical tour-de-force of CGI that is Avatar, the wierder this double-exposure sense of “what universe was this written in” gets.  I won’t go into the very hackneyed plot — Dvorsky has a nice review here — or how a presumably star-faring civilization (the humans) happens to still be using Vietnam-era military technology (why aren’t the fighting machines at least teleoperated, or more likely, AIs?), or even why they aren’t mining the floating mountains for the antigravity mineral.  And who bred the Smurfs with the Gentle Tasaday?  (My guess is that Cameron is angling for an Oscar and wrote the story to appeal to the Gaian sensibilities of the Hollywood elite.)

Avatar isn’t anywhere near real SF — it’s fantasy.  Let’s take it on those terms.

But the thing about the movie as a whole that struck me was that that beautiful, gorgeous, magical world … was entirely artificial.  Synthetic.  Made up. Every single bit and pixel. Produced by a corporation using lots of expensive machines. We are standing at the dawn of the era where the worlds we can produce are better than the natural one we happen to have evolved in.  Storytellers always did that in the imagination;  now we can do it in photorealistic detail.  With nanotech, we’ll be able to do it with atoms instead of bits.  This century.  If you like it you can live there.  But only if we build it.

6 Responses to “Avatar”

  1. Memnotics Says:

    There is nothing technologically advanced about this movie. It’s rather sad. It’s technically a political hate rant against the American species poorly disguised as a science-fiction action movie. Again, the entertainment media business fills the news up with inflated box-office earnings and false glamour for nothing less than using Americas freedom against Americans. At this rate, it is doubtful Hollywood and its owners have a future in America for another century.

  2. Paul Rodgers Says:

    Ray Kurzweil and Eric Drexler were the two authors that ruined most of science fiction for me. Based on technological advances on an exponential scale. Anything written for 30 years out would have to be at least as fantastic as life in the year 50AD compared to the present time. When I watch sci-fi with that measuring stick I am utterly underwhelmed. Most of the Sci-Fi is just NOT imaginative enough. Charles Stross and his “Accelerando” comes pretty close to the amazing, fantastic and advancing reality, when we harness the exponential growth in processing speed and the exponential diminution in working pieces for manufacturing. Great entry J. Storrs Hall!

  3. Jim C Says:

    I don’t know kinda makes Microscopic God seem prescient and Mimsy still works. Can’t ignore all the asemtope of the curve works. Arguably we will always be there now (or in the next 20 or so years, then 10 or so then year or so…)

  4. Tim Tyler Says:

    My first reaction to Drexler was similar to the one expressed in these sentences, by Moravec:

    “I found the speculations absurdly anthropocentric. Here we have machines millions of times more intelligent, plentiful, fecund, and industrious than ourselves, evolving and planning circles around us. And every single one exists only to support us in luxury in our ponderous, glacial, bodies and dim witted minds. There is no hint in Drexler’s discussion of the potential lost by keeping our creations so totally enslaved.”

    http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1986/drexler.mss

  5. Valkyrie Ice Says:

    Sci-fi used to be my primary escape from reality. Now I read Sci-fi for little more than research when someone uses a particular book for reference repeatedly. I recently read Snow Crash for that reason, and found the book rather behind the times.

    The closest approach to our future I have found yet is not even a story or a movie, but Secondlife, a world created by it’s users for other users. I’ve traveled through stargates, flown an X-wing fighter, sat in Kirk’s chair on the bridge of the Enterprise, and even have my own paired set of light sabers.

    And to top it off, I walk through the world on a pair of cloven hooves, with a tail wings and horns, a virtual demoness, and no-one bats an eye. Even my Anthropomorphic black Egyptian Jackal girl with her neon green glowing hair and Tron inspired Mecha armor is complimented regularly even by those who would never dare talk to a fursuited cosplayer at a convention.

    We are the product of generations of stories, immersed in endless creative dreams, and yet no sci-fi story I have yet read even comes close to properly envisioning a future in which the human race has achieved control over their very form. Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair is the sole Sci-Fi I have read in decades that even remotely comes close with it’s various “genetic upgrades” mixed freely with advanced cybertechnology, yet even it is supposedly a world centuries in the future, when I can see it’s reality within just a few decades, if that.

    We are about to enter the era of VR. The technology now exists to immerse us into a fully virtual environment without the need for cumbersome and specialized equipment. The Xbox is releasing a motion tracking system in 2010 which combined with the Emotiv Epoch EEG input device could capture and model a human being completly in VR in their own living room. Once the Epoc is merged with a set of VR lenses, which with the ability to print electronics and create curved OLED displays, will not be long in coming, we will be able to experience the immersiveness of such 3d movies in our own homes.

    But when you combine the ever increasing power of our portable networking devices, the so called “smartphones”, and their rapidly increasing utility for AR applications, it is readily apparent that VR will not STAY in the home for long. And when the world begins to resemble Secondlife, it’s going to lead to a massively increased demand to reshape or very reality itself to match VR.

    Floating islands? Sure. But well also have dragons and unicorns, starships and cyborgs, steampunk and stormtroopers, anime cat girls and Klingons, and ten million Angelina and Brad clones.

    And from there, it’s going to get REALLY imaginative.

    Harnessing nanotech to be our slave as humanity lives in luxury forever is as much a pipedream as Metropolis’s machine city. Why on earth would we chose to live in idle luxury when we will be finally be free to explore an endless cosmos and create an infinite number of paradises?

    While I have no doubt that the governments would love for us to remain in our little cubicles under their control, it’s not going to happen unless they utterly destroy everything that makes us human.

    From Utility Fog Mage battles to Succubi like me, we’re going to become everything we have ever dreamed, past present and future.

    And beside that… yeah, sci-fi seems awfully dull these days.

  6. Hervé Musseau Says:

    In recent movie history, the only thing that didn’t seem dull and already obsolete was Dr Manhattan from The Watchmen. Except for the dubious origin of his powers, he was the character in recent history that was believable as a posthuman.

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