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What Snow Crash Got Right

Acorns
July 1, 2023

Neal Stephenson's Version of The Future

Overview

This blog post examines the remarkable prescience of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992), a work that intertwines satire, futurism, and sociopolitical commentary. The paper analyzes the Metaverse, an immersive virtual reality space, cryptocurrencies, and the sophisticated AI construct "The Librarian." Stephenson’s narrative provides profound insights into the ongoing transformation of our techno-social landscape.

Introduction

When Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash in 1992, few could have anticipated its prophetic portrayal of the future. The story trails the lives of Hiro Protagonist, a pizza deliveryman and skilled hacker, and Y.T., an agile skateboard courier, navigating their way through a corporately fragmented America. The narrative illuminates the potential of immersive virtual spaces, cryptocurrencies, and conversational AI, presenting a vision of a future remarkably akin to our present, albeit less dystopian.

The Metaverse and Cryptocurrencies

In Snow Crash, Stephenson’s Metaverse is a shared, immersive, computer-generated space where people, represented by avatars, interact. The Metaverse goes beyond mere social interaction; it also serves as an economic entity. This feature aligns with the current interaction between cryptocurrencies and virtual environments, enabling the exchange of value across these domains.

Stephenson's Metaverse, much like our increasingly digitized world, thrives on transactions. Hiro, for example, buys information on the antagonist Raven, and Y.T. sells intelligence to the Central Intelligence Corporation. This commerce parallels the rise of cryptocurrencies, which have transformed digital transactions.

Cryptocurrencies like Ethereum are revolutionizing online transactions, creating economic bridges between the virtual and physical worlds. They provide the framework for value exchanges in virtual spaces, echoing the economic vibrancy of the Metaverse in Snow Crash. Current platforms allow users to trade virtual assets, a trend Stephenson anticipated decades ago.

Artificial Intelligence: The Librarian

"The Librarian," an AI construct in Snow Crash, serves as an advanced linguistic AI construct assisting Hiro in his quests. Stephenson’s AI exhibits a depth of interaction that modern AI models, like Bard and ChatGPT, aspire to. In one instance, Hiro calls upon "The Librarian" to decipher Sumerian culture and the language-based neurolinguistic virus, Snow Crash. The depth of their conversation predicts the engaging exchanges we have today with conversational AI.

A More Hopeful Reality

Stephenson’s vision, however, leans dystopian. A fragmented America, stark socioeconomic divides, and the weaponization of language as a neurolinguistic virus depict a bleak future. While echoes of these challenges exist today, our trajectory is arguably more hopeful. Despite persistent hurdles, we are harnessing our increasingly interconnected world's positive potential, demonstrating that our shared reality can diverge positively from Stephenson’s vision.

Language as Code

A key theme in Snow Crash is the concept of language as code. Through the term "nam-shub," a Mesopotamian word for "spell" or "incantation," Stephenson underlines language's role in shaping reality. The neurolinguistic virus in Snow Crash influences human behavior, just as digital codes in various forms dictate our interactions today. These codes, whether binary, symbolic, or linguistic, influence how we navigate the virtual and physical worlds.

Conclusion

In retrospect, Snow Crash stands as a testament to Neal Stephenson's remarkable foresight. His narrative anticipates the rise of the Metaverse, the impact of cryptocurrencies, and the sophistication of AI long before they crystallized into our current reality. As we shape our future, Stephenson’s vision reminds us that the 'codes' we create and live

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