Shapeways interviews Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling is a noted sci fi author, futurologist & speaker. As well as being an award winning author and one of the founders of the cyberpunk movement he is an early and constant booster of Augmented Reality technology and coined the word Spime. Spimes are pieces of technology that know where they are and can reveal their entire history to you. He is also behind a project that hopes to document dead media, founded a green design movement, loves Bollywood movies, is a hacker in the original sense and you really should read his Wired blog Beyond the Beyond.      

Joris Peels: I was wondering if at one point you would be interested in doing an interview about 3D printing/the
future?

Bruce Sterling: Well, man, all I can tell you is that I’m hanging out at a monster science event with labs-on-a-chip and 3d biofactories.

Joris Peels: Sounds good, are there any jet packs?
Bruce Sterling: Only for the microbes.

Joris Peels: What are you making? 

Bruce Sterling: A novel.  Kind of abstract, I know, but somebody’s gotta do it. 

Joris Peels: What will the Bollywood films of the future look like? In 200 years, will there be kissing? 

Bruce Sterling: Well, films are sure not gonna be on “film.”  The Republic of India is sixty years old. Indian cinema is over a hundred years old.  This suggests that there’s likely to be some kind of organized entertainment spectacle in 200 years, but the legal censorship mechanisms and the audience customs that belong to the current political regime are not built for the ages.  The kissing fetish is not a major impediment for Bollywood.  In recent Bollywood hit Dev D., actress Kalki Koechlin plays a high school student who is forced into prostitution because she’s camera=phoned having sex and the file gets uploaded onto the Internet.  Indian sexual politics is moving into an alternate modernity.  Indians who want some raw Indian porn don’t have much trouble finding Indian websites.  Bollywood films of the future are likely to be very Indo-global, but not very much like contemporary Hollywood films.

Joris Peels: If everyone had replicators would people that were able to speak quicker be happier than those that spoke slower? 

Bruce Sterling: Look, “everyone” is never going to have anything.  The human race includes infants, the senile, the mentally retarded, the disabled, people in clinics and prisons, the illiterate, the totally broke, dropouts of all descriptions, refuseniks…  This is like asking what happens when “everybody has a car.”  Everybody’s not gonna have a car, even in an imaginary world where cars cost less than nothing.  If replicators were as cheap as cellphones we wouldn’t be any “happier.” Are guys who yak really fast on cellphones any happier than the rest of us?  Hardly. 

Joris Peels: How long will it take for someone to develop the first prank disease? 

Bruce Sterling: You mean besides “smallpox blankets?”  Maybe massive lethality on entire populations doesn’t count as “pranks.”

Joris Peels: In the future will people still read science fiction? 

Bruce Sterling: “Science fiction” is 80 years old.  Mass-produced commercial fiction is about 250 years old.  “The future” is a very long time.   Do you suppose people will still be “people” forever?  The  human species is only two million years old and the universe is 13.7 billion years old.

Joris Peels: Is Avatar more like Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas or Ferngully?

Bruce Sterling: Dances With Wolves.

Joris Peels: Does it suck?

Bruce Sterling: Not if the intention was to clear a billion dollars with a three hundred million dollar investment.  The Bollywood people I follow are hugely impressed by “Avatar.” 

Joris Peels: Who is the most likely person to be the first to start his own species?  

Bruce Sterling: Somebody not born yet.  A “species” by definition would be required to breed only with itself and not with human beings.  It’s hard to believe that we couldn’t finesse a minor problem like that one.  If you somehow engineer yourself to have four arms and wings, we could just re=engineer your stem cells and restore your so-called “species” to the status quo.  Big deal. 

Joris Peels: If you could resurrect one dead media, which would it be? 

Bruce Sterling: The Incan quipu.  It would be great to learn how those really worked. 

Joris Peels: Would spimes be sad? 

Bruce Sterling: They’re inanimate objects.  I’ve seen some East German plastic kitchen hardware that was pretty sad.

Joris Peels: If every single electronic device was connected to the Internet would: My fridge tweet? 

Bruce Sterling: The Internet is never gonna be connected to everything.  Your fridge could tweet right now if you wanted to invest a few dozen bucks.  Go ahead, help yourself.

Joris Peels: Would my stereo have a Facebook page? 

Bruce Sterling: You still  have a “stereo“?  Gosh. 

Joris Peels: If I walked into a bar who gets the Four Square check in? Me or my iPhone? 

Bruce Sterling: Did you drive there, or did your car drive there

Joris Peels: Once Google has organized all the worlds information what will there be left over for other companies to do? 

Bruce Sterling: You still plan to eat, am I right?  Somebody’s got to bury you after you’re dead and you stop doing searches.  

Joris Peels: The hoverboard is the greatest piece of technology ever imagined, discuss. 

Bruce Sterling: If we’re talking strictly imaginary technology, it’s hard to beat the Hindu pantheon churning the entire universe from a sea of milk by using a giant cobra

Joris Peels: Augmented reality seems to right now incorrectly assume that the people of the future will leave their homes? 

Bruce Sterling: Augmented Reality right now is a set of three quite different display technologies and cannot “assume” anything.  It’s true that AR is very big on urban informatics for wanderers right now, but that’s because all the girls, gold and glory is in the smartphone market right now.

Joris Peels: A while back I registered the domain name lowimpulsecontrol.com, I did that because I believe that ever slicker and more compelling technology will lead to impulse control disorders becoming mainstream, what do you think? 

Bruce Sterling: Did you ever see a cartoon called “Koko’s Earth Control“?  It’s about mastery of technological power liberating the imp of the perverse.  This is a major problem for teenage hacker-boys, no doubt about it.  A lot of irresponsible 1980s-style hacker behavior has in fact gone very mainstream in the past 30 years.  If you shoot somebody I’d urge you not to tell the judge that, gosh, this Uzi was just so sleek and high-tech that you couldn’t stop yourself.  That happens to impulsive people every day, but if you rationalize your failings in that way people will lock you up for good.

15 comments

  1. Boing Boing

    Don’t miss Bruce Sterling in full-on grumpy zen master mode, busting out futuristic koans in this interview with Shapeways, the 3D printing people: Joris Peels: If everyone had replicators would people that were able to speak quicker be happier than those that spoke slower? Bruce Sterling: Look, “everyone” is never going to have anything. The human race includes infants, the senile, the mentally retarded, the disabled, people in clinics and prisons, the illiterate, the totally broke, dropouts of all descriptions, refuseniks… This is like asking what happens when “everybody has a car.” Everybody’s not gonna have a car, even in an imaginary world where cars cost less than nothing. If replicators were as cheap as cellphones we wouldn’t be any “happier.” Are guys who yak really fast on cellphones any happier than the rest of us? Hardly. Joris Peels: How long will it take for someone to develop the first prank disease? Bruce Sterling: You mean besides “smallpox blankets?” Maybe massive lethality on entire populations doesn’t count as “pranks.” Shapeways interviews Bruce Sterling Previously:Shapeways interviews Makerbot: 3D printing ahoy! Boing Boing Successful marriage proposal via 3D-printed ring – Boing Boing Bruce Sterling on life in the ISS Boing Boing Bruce Sterling taking over Cool Tools – Boing Boing Bruce Sterling on "generative art" Boing Boing Bruce Sterling's visionary novel Distraction: still brilliant a … Bruce Sterling's story on the merger of blogging and scientific … Bruce Sterling – Boing Boing Bruce Sterling and "Tech Nouveau" design examples – Boing Boing Bruce Sterling ruminates on Pokemon – Boing Boing…

  2. eltimbalino

    Wow, I had forgotten how misguided some people can get about the future. It took a bunch of revealing questions by Joris Peels to remind me of the one eyed wonder my ignorance as a child allowed me to enjoy. Don’t grow up too fast Joris, the world will need a good laugh once the visions of Bruce come to pass.

  3. Anonymous

    holy shit i can flipflop from hi to lo tech every couple questions how cool is that

  4. Simon Moon

    What a waster of my time as well as Bruce Sterling’s. You have one of the greatest thinkers alive and you are talking to him about fricking Bollywood Movies and your Fridge Tweeting. Geez.

    1. Anonymous

      +1 – Joris if you’re going to interview Bruce Sterling how about some real questions and a bit of respect?

    2. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      The correct verb for that wasn’t ‘interview’, it was ‘accost’.

  5. T. Shawn Johnson

    haha .. grumpy zen-master …

    Joris, please never NEVER change. Someone has to challenge the occasional grumpy zen-master. If that means yo have to raise his blood pressure enough to make him chant, then so be it ;)

    Bruce is interesting, but Joris is cute.

    -Whystler

  6. James King

    Dewds! No whalin’ on Sterling – he might notice and make you look stoopid. He was cooler than you before, he’s cooler than you now and he’s gonna be cooler than you after you’re dead and gone. If you can’t handle that, have a lollypop.

    1. Whystler

      In the grand scheme of all things I really am quite stupid and uncool already :) So any attempts to prove this would be redundant. I hear yuh tho, bud. I wasn’t dissing the man Bruce :) There’s nothing wrong with curmudgeons! They have character and lessons to teach.

  7. skydaddy

    Sounds like Sterling was playing along with the playful questioning.

    1. Joris

      @Whystler, thank you so much for being so supportive.
      @Skydaddy, this is what I thought also.

      As for the people that didn’t like the interview, I’m sorry about that. I respect & like Bruce a lot and am very happy to see he has such passionate fans. I thought it was very much a playful banter type of fun discussion between the both of us.

      I will think more about my questions if I ever do another Bruce Sterling interview.

  8. Gustavo Lanzas

    Bruce Sterling lives in a completely imaginary world, and has learned to spew obtuse and obscure pronouncements that the fan-boy sycophants that usually interview him will then pronounce as wisdom from the “grumpy zen master”.

    His pronouncement at SXSW ’06 that “National borders, they’re like speed-bumps.” is an incredibly disconnected and privileged view of reality. Look at the hundreds of illegal aliens that die crossing into the US every year, or tell the Palestinians in Gaza “oh sorry – its not really a border, its a speedbump”.

    Having money, being white, and coming from a privileged background opens doors and affects perception. Everyone else’s reality is far different.

    I’ve enjoyed Bruce’s Science Fiction novels to some degree, but he’s always been second fiddle to greater talents like Gibson. And I’ve learned to ignore his pronouncements, because frankly, he’s a middling to ok writer, and not much else.

    1. James King

      Has anyone else noticed how some think it’s hip to bite the hand that feeds them? Or is it just an autistic tendency to take the written word so literally and then complain about the inevitable brain snap? I’ve also read most of Sterling’s books but, unlike you, had the good sense to enjoy them immensely. Despite the fact that he typically writes fiction, I’m sure that he lives in the real world in which, perhaps strangely, it is quite possible to suffer from imaginary things. Like borders – http://boingboing.net/2009/04/04/help-save-bruce-ster.html I tend to think that if Sterling had that much money or privilege, that story from last year would never have happened. So, a ‘Bah! Humbug!’ and ‘fan-boy sycophant’ yourself!

      Oh, and have a lollypop. ;p

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