Science Fiction, Science Faction- An exploration of the visions behind the contemporary digital world.
Science Fiction, Science Faction
An exploration of the visions behind the contemporary digital world.
Organized by the Waag Society, Internet provider XS4ALL and the
Cyberspace Salvations Research Team (University of Leiden, Erasmus
In the mid-1980s, due to the rapid spread of personal and networked
computing and the development of computer graphics, digital
technologies seemed to change the world profoundly. Only nobody knew how.
Computer designers, entrepreneurs and opinion makers put
tremendous effort in envisioning and creating the kinds of futures they
thought these technologies could and should bring. In this quest, many of
them were inspired by science fiction.
The mutual influence between science fiction and the production of
techno-science is as old as science itself. From Jules Verne’s From the
Earth to the Moon (1865) to William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984),
science fiction has provided science with possibilities for the future,
and has suggested blueprints – both utopian and dystopian – for an as yet
nonexistent world. In 1984 William Gibson introduced the concept of
‘cyberspace’- an otherworldly space that was enclosed in a network of
computers. His work, and that of other cyberpunk writers like Neal
Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker, greatly
inspired a growing network of internet pioneers and game designers. The
science fiction fantasies provided them with images of a future that was
just around the corner and which they could help to build. New
technologies, in turn, fed the imaginations of science fiction writers.
This cross-fertilization between science fiction and science faction
resulted, among others, in new understandings of user-computer
interaction and in the production of online worlds such World of
Warcraft and Second Life.
During three evenings prominent Virtual World designers, cyberpunk
writers and an editor of a cyberculture magazine will engage in a
discussion about the ways in which they mutually inspired each other.
They will be joined by social scientists, journalists and the audience in
an exploration of the fertilization between science fiction
fantasies and ‘science factional’ engineering of new technologies. The
speakers will look back at how new technologies and the visions,
fantasies and ideologies that accompanied them helped shape the digital
world we inhabit today. Insight in the process of fertilization between
science fiction and science faction might not only shed light on the
roots of our digital present, but also assist those who are involved in
the process of finding new visions for a social and technological reality
Bruce Sterling (science fiction writer, design visionairy) &
Peter Pels (anthropology, Leiden University)
Moderator: Sally Wyatt (Virtual Knowledge Studio, president of the
European Association for the Study of Science and Technology)
Rudy Rucker (science fiction writer, mathematics professor)
RU Sirius (founder cyberculture magazine ‘Mondo 2000’)
Moderator: Giselinde Kuipers (sociology, University of Amsterdam)
Brenda Laurel (virtual worlds and game designer)
Bruce Damer and Galen Brandt (virtual worlds developers and performers)
Moderator: Christian van ‘t Hof (Rathenau Institute)
Pakhuis de Zwijger, Piet Heinkade 179, Amsterdam
Start: 19.45 uur
Reserve through: symposium@cyberspacesalvations
Bruce Sterling (1954) is a science fiction writer and one of the
founders of the so-called ‘cyberpunk genre’. His activities are not
restricted to science fiction: in 2003 he was appointed as a professor at
the European Graduate School where he lectures on media and design. In
2005 he became a ‘visionary in residence’ at the Art Center College of
Design in Pasadena, California. His most recent (non science
fiction) book is ‘Shaping Things’ (2005).
Peter Pels (1958) is a professor in cultural anthropology at Leiden
University and project leader of the Cyberspace Salvations research
group. Besides his specialization in sub-Saharan Africa, he is
interested in the ‘anthropology of modernity’, religion, technology and
the convergence of both in, for instance, science fiction novels. Among
others, he has published a book ‘Magic and Modernity’ together with
Birgit Meyer (ed., Stanford 2003).
Rudy Rucker (1946) is both a computer scientist and a science fiction
writer and, like Sterling, one of the founders of ‘cyberpunk’. Rucker
lectures at San José University since 1986, worked between 1988 and 1992
at Autodesk – a company specialized in Interface Technology – and is
mostly known for his ‘Wetware Tetralogy: Software’ (1982), ‘Wetware’
(1988), ‘Freeware’ (1997) and ‘Realware’ (2000).
RU Sirius (born as Ken Goffman) is an American writer and co-founded
‘Mondo 2000’ in 1989 – one of the most influential magazines in the
American cyberculture of the 1990s. MONDO featured contributions of
Virtual Reality pioneers (like Jaron Lanier), science fiction writers
(like William Gibson and Rudy Rucker) and New Age guru’s (such as Timothy
Leary). Goffman’s most recent book is ‘Counterculture through the Ages’
Brenda Laurel works as a ‘senior director’ for Sun Microsystems Labs in
Menlo Park, California and teaches at the Art Center of Design in
Pasadena, California. She became a designer for Atari and Activision in
the 1980s, worked in the field of Virtual Reality in the 1990s and
(co)founded Purple Moon – a company specialized in computer games for
girls. Laurel authored many books on the vision and imagination behind
technology, like ‘Computers as Theatre’ (1991) and ‘Utopian
Bruce Damer is an engineer of virtual worlds and started Contact
Consortium in the 1990s – the first organization that developed
‘avatars’ as digital representations of people in cyberspace. He wrote
the non-fiction book ‘Avatars’ (1997) and is the director of ‘Digital
Space’, a 3D modeling and visualization technology company that works for
NASA. Damer is an active member of CONTACT – an organization of
technicians, academics and science fiction writers who explore
scenario’s, based on contemporary, technological innovations and
developments, about possible future societies.
Galen Brandt is a musician and performer who has used virtual reality
systems in her performances and has collaborated with artificial
reality pioneer Myron Krueger in the creation of interactive worlds.
Galen has written and lectured as well about Virtual Healing: the use of
virtual reality for healing real world problems.