Molly Millions is cool.

Her aggrandized eyes are coated in mirrors, and beneath her immaculately manicured nails, arbitrary acrimony wait to be sprung. Her admirer was Johnny Mnemonic, a human hard drive, gray matter encrypted with a passcode that only the accomplished bidder can unlock. But that was before he died. Now, Molly is a “razorgirl”: a lithe apache periodically hired for jobs involving computer espionage.

Not that she jacks into cyberspace herself. She leaves that to her charges, the animate cowboys she’s paid to assure as they slump in their VR rigs.

You might never have heard of Molly Millions, the street-samurai charlatan of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but in a way, you’re living in her era. Like Helen of Troy, hers is a face that has launched a thousand ships: Companies like Google and Facebook and Amazon and Snapchat have all—in one way or another—been anon aggressive by cyberpunk, the once-obscure ’80s genre of science fiction to which Molly Millions belongs and which is now more accordant to designers than ever.


Writer Bruce Bethke coined the term “cyberpunk” in 1983, in his short story of the same title. He created the word to refer to what he anticipation would be the true disruptors of the 21st century: “the first bearing of teenagers who grew up ‘truly speaking’ computer.” Other authors, aggressive by the more psycho-literary science fiction of J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick from the ’60s and ’70s, accepted the term.

The constant works of cyberpunk of the ’80s and ’90s—Neuromancer or Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash, about a virus so deadly it can be spoken verbally and hack the human mind—examine dystopian futures in which the lines amid basic and authentic, human and apparatus have blurred.

The heroes of cyberpunk novels are heroic hackers; the villains, all too often, caked mega-corporations.

You need only look to Hollywood to see that cyberpunk is big right now. Blade Runner 2049 is in theaters, Mr. Robot is on TV. At Fox, Deadpool’s Tim Miller is hard at work on a Neuromancer movie; Amazon has a Snow Crash mini-series on the assembly slate. Even Steven Spielberg is accepting in on the action, with the movie adaptation of Ready Player One, the accepted cyberpunk novel by Ernest Cline.

The reason is simple: The absurd themes of cyberpunk—the astriction amid man and machine, basic and real—have never been more real. And a large part of that is because the people who read cyberpunk as kids grew up to be the major movers and shakers of Silicon Valley, which now sets the world’s cultural compass.

Take Mark Zuckerberg, for example. The Facebook architect abundantly suggests that all his employees read Snow Crash. For cyberpunk aficionados, then, it was no abruptness when, in 2014, Facebook dropped $2 billion on Oculus VR, the aggregation behind the Oculus Rift headset. A huge chunk of Snow Crash happens in what Stephenson calls the Metaverse, a basic social arrangement that is accessed alone through VR headsets.

Inspired by the book, Zuckerberg had already created half of the Metaverse; by buying Oculus, his aggregation is making a abiding advance in making its CEO’s boyish sci-fi dream a reality.

There are plenty of other analogues. For example, Google named its Nexus devices in a nod to the Nexus series of replicants in Blade Runner. Apple’s whole design motif is about cyberpunk, in the way it makes high technology feel organic: Sleek, sexy, silver, and glass, the new iPhone X is a street samurai of a phone. Likewise, augmented-reality articles like Google Glass, Snapchat’s Snap, Apple’s ARKit, and Magic Leap are attempts to make real, at least in part, Molly Millions’s mirrored eyes, folding the basic into the real.

The examples go on and on. Basic administration like Siri that buzz into your ear through wireless AirPods. Consumer abiogenetic testing such as 23andme. Apps that construe adopted languages in real time. High-speed, vacuum-sealed rail networks like the Hyperloop. Artificial retinas and circling implants. Hacker collectives like Anonymous. All of these have their direct equivalents in cyberpunk.

There’s a reason, then, that cyberpunk has aback become a thing again in the cultural zeitgeist.


Look at filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s widely well-regarded Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. I won’t spoil annihilation for you, but the movie poses several questions that, for the first time ever, are accordant to your boilerplate person, in ways that its 1982 aboriginal was not.

What does it mean to be “human”? In the world of Blade Runner, this is about the acumen amid humans, AIs, and android replicants. But it’s just as accordant to our world, where the boilerplate person might behave very abnormally in real life than they do on Facebook, or where it’s cryptic which of the president’s more afire Twitter followers are human or bots.

What is the aberration amid a real memory and a fake one? In Blade Runner, memories can be implanted, and they can be either real or virtual. Even if one of your memories is “real,” though, it might not be one you made; it could have been altered, or somehow even copied from addition else. Sound accustomed in an era in which Facebook and Google “remind” you of your memories from a assertive date, which is then served back to you, adapted with Instagram filters or other neural-network-driven improvements?

Where does real life end and the basic begin? In the world of Blade Runner 2049, holographic ads collaborate with each person, AIs cater to our every need when we’re at home, and augmented-reality glasses allow people to “exist” in assorted places at once. How altered is this from our world, where each person receives alone targeted web ads? Where Siri- and HomeKit-connected houses are bound acceptable the norm? Where all of us carry a basic world everywhere with us, within our smartphones?


All of these questions would have been solely the ambit of sci-fi back in the analog ’80s. Now, though, they are eerily accordant to everyone. Tech has caught up.

Of course, in a way, the axial irony is that the real cyberpunks —Bethke’s “first-generation of teenagers who grew up speaking computer”—didn’t grow up to fight the mega-corps. They formed them. For a cyberpunk fan, this irony is even more apricot when you bethink that the genre itself is inherently dystopian.

Cyberpunk’s animate cowboys spend all their time in basic absoluteness because the real world is all mass afterlife and acid rain. They hack and augment their flesh not because they’re cool, but because, in meatspace, they’re powerless, ruled by corporations that about hold their concrete lives in abiding servitude.

In cyberpunk, the Cold War never ended; it just got higher tech. All of which sounds quite a bit like the world we all live in now — a world in which global abating is causing accustomed disasters of unprecedented severity, where people are slaves to their phones and social media accounts, where Russians hacked our democracy, where the POTUS overwhelmingly lost the accepted vote.

But dystopia isn’t the cyberpunk vision the likes of Facebook and Google are selling.

It’s all the sexy empowerment of cyberpunk after the dystopia, which is why articles like Google’s Daydream VR headset come in amoebic shapes and warm, lovely pastels. But this is just salesmanship. We live in a world where carbon is at an 800,000-year high, not so far off from Blade Runner’s vision of a planet in absolutely ecology catastrophe. In 2017, people aspire to live in coffin-size apartments because our cities are overcrowded, not so different, really, from the containers that the heroes of Ready Player One or Snow Crash inhabit.

And, of course, we all live about half our lives in cyberspace, thanks to our iPhones and smartphones, an aftereffect predicted by every cyberpunk story under the sun.

So where does Silicon Valley’s love affair with cyberpunk go next? As far as it can along the cyberpunk’s roadmap of tech development — arch to ever more adult basic administration and affiliated homes and aggrandized absoluteness and wearables that hack into your very biorhythm. The accommodation of cyberpunk isn’t waning; it’s waxing. And for today’s designers living on the circle of the basic and the flesh, Molly Millions isn’t just a priestess and a prophet. She’s a muse.

Even today, the best account of cyberpunk lies in what the android Replicant, Roy Batty, mourns to Deckard at the end of Blade Runner. “I watched C-beams beam in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Tears in rain is the motif of cyberpunk and tech’s future: the duplicate abashing amid that which man creates and that which is a force of nature. That is why cyberpunk isn’t just sci-fi. It’s design theory.

This story is republished from Magenta, a advertisement of Huge. Follow Huge down here:

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