SO I CHRONICLESnPOP CULTUREnFuture Shock?nby Gary S. VasilasbnThis won’t be easy. But, it may be thenfuture, at least according to a number ofnscience-fiction writers collectively knownnas the “cyberpunks.” More disturbingly,nthere seems to be a number of scientistsnand researchers who agree. Hang on.nThe first part of the word cyberpunksncomes from cybernetics, a term coinednby Norbert Wiener in 1948. Essentially,ncybernetics deals with informationalnfeedback, which is of some importancento the age in which we find ourselves.nEven though the electromechanicalndevices of today have an apparentndominance, it’s superficial. Consider,nfor example, your VCR. An electromechanicalndevice, right? Yes, but uselessnwithout the information — audionand visual—coded on the tape. You cannhold up a piece of conventional film tonlight and see images; do that with anvideotape and you’ll see nothing. Anothernexample is the CD. And while personalncomputers proved to be a bust innthe home market, even the smallestnbusinesses are equipped with PC’s.nImportant to note about PC’s andnother computers is that the “hardware,”nthe nuts and bolts, is of lesser importancenthan the software, or the instructions,nthat make it work. Software, of course, isninformation.nThe last half of the term cyberpunk isneasy. It refers to a tendency to be hardedgednand street-smart in the alleys andnstainless steel sewers that few others darento tread. This environment would scarenthe pants off an Isaac Asimov. It’s anpostnuclear landscape that cyberpunksninhabit, a place wherein conventionalngeopolitical boundaries cease to exist,ntorn asunder by multinational corporationsnand collectives.nSince speculative fiction must be annextrapolation from a given, the possibilitynof such a world becomes increasinglynevident. Large corporations are becomingnlarger through buy-outs of otherncorporations and through “partnerships”nor joint ventures, usually with foreignnfirms. It’s a case of power simultaneouslynexpanding and becoming more concentrated.nThink of it as nuclear fusion.nPhysically, in the world of cyberpunks,ntechnology has proliferated sonthat the environment does not resemblenthe antiseptic interior of the starshipnEnterprise but the dark and damp guts ofnthe ‘Nostromo in the film Alien. Thenplace tends to be Earth. And even if it’snelsewhere, there is a degree of sameness,nas opposed to the exotic differences characteristicnof earlier sci-fi writers. It’s angritty reality, to be sensed in the videonarcades of today, particularly since theynhave lost much of their popularity.nGame screens vary from eye-achingnbrightness to a low-burning flicker; thenplastic surfaces are scarred and fatigued;nsilver-colored duct tape serves as thenBand-Aid of aching electrical lines.nHangers-on wear black T-shirts bearingnthe emblems of a fascist nightmare.nTheir jeans are worn, not through use,nbut as if they have been exposed to ansteady stream of atomic particles. Sexualitynis there, like a low-frequency hum,nbut it’s a hard-edged condition.nWho are these writers? They includenBruce Sterling {The Artificial Kid andnSchismatrix), Greg Bear (Eon), andnRudy Rucker {The 57th Franz Kafka).nPremier among them is William Gibson,nHugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick,nawards-winning author ofNeuromancernand Count Zero. To rephrase a line fromnStephen King to describe Clive Barker,n”I have seen the future of the future. Hisnname is William Gibson.” He writes likena man with electricity in his veins andnsemiconductors for nerves.nConsider the first line of Neuromancer:n”The sky above the port was thencolor of television” — not much there,nsort of a high-school image — “tuned tona dead channel”: a dead-reckoned payoff.nIn Gibson’s world, technology tendsnto be cheap and humans nothing morenthan technological extensions:nNight City was like a derangednexperiment in social Darwinism,ndesigned by a bored researchernwho kept one thumbnpermanently on the fast-forwardnbutton. Stop hustling and younsank without a trace, but moventoo swiftly and you’d break thenfragile surface of the black mark;neither way, you were gone, withnnothing left of you but somenvague memory in the mind of anfixture like Ratz, though heart ornlungs or kidneys might survive innthe service of some stranger withnNew Yen for the clinic tanks.nnnAs repulsive as the market for body partsnmay sound, Gibson is positively benignncompared to the contemporary use ofnbrain grafts from dead fetuses for curingnneurological disorders.nThe physical setting of Gibson’s twonnovels is “BAMA, the Sprawl, thenBoston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.” Anlook at a population-density map generatednfrom data provided by a Landsatnsatellite will make the evidence of ancreeping megalopolis clear; dreams ofnagrarian existence will have to be locatednin New Mexico (or old).nBut Gibson’s turf is “the matrix,” orn”cyberstate.” It’s a place of pure informationnthat can be accessed through onenmeans only: by becoming “jacked-in”nthrough a computer deck. It is the otherdimensionalnuniverse where software,nthe invisible network, takes on form,nwhere consciousness—which is, in onensense, nothing more than bits andnbytes—can circuitously travel. Once inside,nthe plot is not unlike that of anynother pop fiction: the “good guy,” typicallynan outcast, must overcome seeminglynimpossible odds as he takes on thenenemy, usually an individual who is onenwith a massive organization.nWhat is off-putting is that cyberspacenis not merely Gibson’s invention:nIt is now well established thatnneutral networks [i.e., “cognitiveninformation processingnstructure(s) based upon modelsnof brain function”] can carry outna number of powerful,ngeneral-purpose informationnprocessing operations. Amongnthese are the implementation ofnan arbitrary continuous mappingnfrom n-dimensional space tonm-dimensional space based solelynupon a set of examples of thenmapping’s action.nThis text goes on to discuss thenGrossberg/Mingolla Vision ProcessingnNetwork and the Kukushima Neocognition;nthe Kosko Fuzzy CognitivenMap; the Carpenter-Grossberg AdaptivenResonance Network; the Grossberg/nKuperstein Oculomotor Control NeutralnNetwork; and others. It is preciselynthe topology of Gibson’s universe. Yet itncomes from the Hecht-Nielsen NeurocomputernCorporation of San Diego.nThe field of neurocomputers is notnthe same as artificial intelligence. AInexplores the ways and means to maken