Jim Fehlinger (
Wed, 10 Nov 1999 07:36:59 -0500

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> "J. R. Molloy" wrote:
> Actually, the very eve of Singularity, when superintelligent AI is no
> longer some never-k'never but an immediate prospect, is when I expect
> some of the largest social problems. Remember, we haven't won until the
> SI has nanotechnology.

William Gibson's latest, _All Tomorrow's Parties_, his third "bridge" novel
(after _Virtual Light_ and _Idoru_), is a Singularity Eve story about an AI
getting hold of nanotech.


It's an entertaining book, not because Gibson has the imaginative sweep of
Greg Egan, but because of the detailed texture of Gibson's descriptive prose coupled with his wicked sense of humor. In a sense, we've been here
before with _Neuromancer_ (in which an AI gets loose and precipitates a singularity of sorts), but the technological mix has a more late-90's feel
(no "jacking into the matrix", just accessing the Web with smart sunglasses;
no chip implants in the brain, no orbital habitats, but nanotech -- explicitly
so-called -- on the horizon).

The AI in this story is Rei Toei, the Idoru, a Japanese virtual pop icon,
who has given her employers the slip and gotten herself GlobEx'ed from Tokyo to
San Francisco inside a high-tech holographic projector, where something Big
is about to happen.

There is also Colin Laney, former associate of the Idoru's, who has quit his job and is in hiding in a community of the homeless living
in cardboard boxes in the depths of the Tokyo subway. He is aware of the approaching singularity because of his ability to see "nodal points" is the past and the future, due to his exposure to an experimental drug in childhood (one of the less-plausible elements of the story). Laney watches the approaching nodal point with his data goggles from his cardboard
box, where he subsists on sugar, caffeine, and cough syrup, and coordinates
the movements of Berry Rydell, the "rent-a-cop" from Gibson's earlier "bridge"
novels, whom he has hired to quit his job in L.A. and travel to San Francisco
to look after Rei Toei.

The "baddie" in all this is Cody Harwood, a shadowy billionaire and power-behind-the-throne who is explicitly compared to Bill Gates in the book. He is also aware of the coming nodal point, and his priority is to
make sure that he wields the same power after the shift as he has before,
even if he has to kill people to do so. He has hired a team of world-class
assassins to carry out his instructions.

The nanotechnology in the book is about to be unleashed on the world (and this is one of the points where Gibson's sense of humor is evident) by means of a chain of "Lucky Dragon" convenience stores (a sort of Seven-Eleven out of Singapore), which is about to install a system of "nanofax" machines to enable scanning and assembling of physical objects all around the world. Harwood is the brains behind this rollout; the convenience-store service is simply a "front" to enable him to deploy
a world-wide network of assemblers/disassemblers -- what real use they will
turn out to have, even Harwood is not certain.

It's all set in the usual Gibsonian milieu of knife-wielding hustlers and street criminals, ninja assassins, and heavy-handed corporate types. It's a quick, fun read.

Jim F.