Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Vernor Vinge: An Introduction

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Vernor Vinge: An Introduction

Article excerpt

I have to admit i feel sort of like an invertebrate who's been asked to introduce one of the first mammals. "You're gonna like this guy ... he's got real backbone...."

Vernor Vinge used to be a part-time science fiction writer, turning out an Analog story every now and then--important stories like "Run, Bookworm, Run!" and "True Names," later to be expanded into books. "True Names" appeared in 1981, and arguably prefigured the cyberpunk movement, three years before Neuromancer.

In 2000, he retired from his day job as a professor at San Diego State University, to write full time. He's won Hugo and Nebula Awards for novels--A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, and the recent Rainbows End--and the important novellas "Fast Times at Fairmont High" and "The Cookie Monster."

Central to much of Vernor's work is the idea of the Singularity, which is going to happen Real Soon Now--a time when (to greatly simplify) computers begin to improve themselves recursively, and quickly become independent of human control, which presumably would have profound effects on human consciousness and, ultimately, what the idea of "human nature" will actually be.

It's not a brand-new idea, of course. The late Arthur Clarke had a notion of it fifty years ago, when computers were room-sized dinosaurs. But Vernor greatly refined the idea, and thought through its larger consequences.

Vernor's identification of the Singularity is so central to science fiction today--it's so "now"--that I was taken aback to realize that his defining paper about it appeared fifteen years ago. Those of us who teach undergraduates have students who have no memory of the world before the Singularity was proposed--and, in fact, unless they read science fiction or have studied computer science or AI (or IA), they're ignorant of the fact that our notions of what human nature is, and what it must become, have radically changed. …

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