Da5id's Vision

In January, 2005, David Smith was on stage at Kyoto University, speaking in a panel on the future of Croquet. Slouched in his chair, he pulled an iPod from his pocket and threw it on the table, along with his old-fashioned styled spectacles. “In twenty years, that will be the computer. Maybe earlier. Wearable computers and micro-projection display already exist. Virtual Croquet worlds will be layered onto the physical world around us.”

At the same time, in San Diego, CA, author Vernor Vinge was wrapping up “Rainbows End,” a novel set in 2025 in which the common person’s view of the world is augmented by wearable computers overlaying virtual worlds onto contact lenses. The central denizen of the worlds in the story is a troublesome white rabbit, which also happens to be a common avatar in the Alice In Wonderland themed Croquet worlds.

The point is not to claim any sort of priority, but to emphasize that there’s quite a bit of consensus on how all this might be used. Indeed, Vinge’s “True Names” is one of the earliest stories of cyberspace (1981). It was followed the next year by William Gibson‘s Burning Chrome, credited with the first appearance of the term “cyberspace.” Gibson’s “Neuromancer” (1984) cemented the concept.

To many folks, Neal Stephenson‘s “Snowcrash” (1992) is the most complete imagining of the kind of virtual worlds we have today – i.e., without commonplace augmented reality of layering the virtual world onto the physical. Everywhere I went to discuss Croquet, people told me I had to read that book, but it was a few years before I finally did. “Snowcrash” was even the centerpiece for the Intel Developers’ Forum keynote on “Virtual Worlds – The Rise of the 3D Internet”. In the book, a brilliant programmer named Da5id has led a team to create The Metaverse.

When I started, I had a hard time explaining what I was doing. Julian always began demos with a verbal explanation that ended with him saying that, “Like The Matrix, you have to experience it.” (Indeed, the Croquet Collaborative distribution starts Croquet by clicking an Alice/Matrix “Blue Pill.”) I now know that Snow Crash, Neuromancer, and Rainbows End make a pretty good jumping off trio for background reading.

But as Gibson said, the future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed. Thanks to Second Life, I don’t have to explain the concept of virtual worlds so much any more. It’s becoming an identifiable market segment. But before the business books get written, I still prefer the science fiction trio for summer reading.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. There seems to be a problem here, Howard.

    You mention three science fiction writers of near-future, and don’t give a gratuitous hat-tip to your dear colleague, moi.

    In future, kindly take opportunities like this to pimp my books.

    Other than that, great post, as usual.

  2. LOL.

    Of course, this post isn’t about science fiction, but about visions of cyberspace and communicating same.

    Indeed, while all those authors wrote about malevolent entities using cyberspace, I’m not aware of any in which cyberspace itself (not an AI within it), is somehow the great badness. As might be the case in any classic Sundman as only Sundman can do.

    I still don’t have such a book in my hands from you.

  3. Okay, I’ve read several William Gibson and Neal Stephenson books, including the ones you mention, but I’ve never read anything by Vernor Vinge. So when I read your post, I ran out and got Rainbow’s End. Getting it from the library will almost guarantee that I’ll read it sometime soon. Thanks for the tip!

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