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The Difference Engines

Bill Coffin | June 12, 2017

Almost 35 years ago, science fiction author William Gibson published his landmark cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, which predicted the rise of cyberspace and an unprecedented merging of data, media, AI, and culture. The funny thing was, Gibson wasn’t a futurist. He didn’t even own a computer when we typed his novel. He simply saw kids engrossed in video games and wondered what it would be like if you could actually enter the digital world of a computer. The rest was just his imagination. But it was so on point, he became a kind of oracle for the PC generation, and in 1990, he collaborated with fellow author Bruce Sterling to write The Difference Engine, a Victorian-era collection of stories that imagined a world where computers had become commonplace by the 1850s. Although driven by waxy punchcards, these computers—known as Difference Engines—are powerful, and by the end of the novel, one even achieves intelligence.

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