Rainbows End

I'm about halfway thru Vernor Vinge's new book Rainbows End. What's really amazing is how he ties together a lot of technology trends in a single coherent story, including:

  • wearable computers with contact lens displays
  • sensor networks
  • augmented reality
  • robotics
  • new biomedical therapies (I'm sure there's a sexier name for that)
  • silent messaging (I'd love to know how people could do text entry that fast!)
  • paper displays
  • autonomous vehicles (self-driving taxis)
  • micropayments
  • holographic displays
  • digital libraries

There's a funny section early on where the protagonist, who has missed the last decade due to Alzheimer's, is asking where all the robots and flying vehicles are. Vinge also does a good job of tying things to our present world by forecasting how existing entities such as Bank of America, Google, and Homeland Security fit in.

Vinge also seems to subscribe to Brin's notion of a transparent society, where everyone can easily find almost any piece of information about another person. There was a frightening section about on-demand information retrieval, where you simply stare at a person to initiate retrieving a person's biography, and can drill down on past speeches and current hobbies of that person (from Google no less!)

One thing that really bothers me, though, is that the book is supposed to be set in 2025, just 19 years from now, and it just doesn't seem plausible that all of these advances would happen, seamlessly mesh together, and be economically feasible in such a short timespan.

It's also not clear to me that people would accept wearable computers so easily, that our educational system could be so radically restructured (elders and school children in the same class?), as well as the dramatic loss in privacy (though given today's polls that most people support the NSA wiretapping, maybe I'm wrong).

At any rate, it's a really fun read, and really underscores the question of where we are going, and whether that's something we want and can be proud of.


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