10 of the World’s Most Groundbreaking Futurists


William Gibson

William Gibson attends the Festival of Literature at Literature House in Rome, Italy.
William Gibson attends the Festival of Literature at Literature House in Rome, Italy.
Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage/Getty Images

Unlike forecasters who rely on crunching data, the South Carolina-born Gibson -- author of novels such as "Neuromancer," "Virtual Light," "Pattern Recognition" and the recent "Zero History" -- is more of a latter-day Jules Verne, using his imagination to concoct a science-fiction vision of the future. Gibson, who now lives in Canada, began writing fiction in the early 1980s on an old-fashioned manual typewriter [source: UBC]. But that didn't stop him from imagining a world in which people all over the planet were connected by a global computer network, and spent much of their time interacting in cyberspace, a term coined by Gibson.

His fantasy bore a startling resemblance to today's actual multimedia Internet, which at the time existed only as a bare-bones system that connected a few university and military research institutions [source: Leiner, etal.]. Indeed, as science journalist Pagan Kennedy noted in 2012, "A decade later, when we all stepped into cyberspace, the word seemed just right" [source: Kennedy]. But the future that Gibson sketches is dark and dystopian, rather than glittering with promise. His 1988 book "Mona Lisa Overdrive," for example, describes a phenomenon called "neuroelectronic" addiction, in which "wireheads" become so addicted to digital content that they end up as shriveled, comatose wraiths in cots, hardwired to modems [source: Gibson]. But Gibson also has predicted more uplifting use of technology. In his 1997 novel "Idoru," he depicts a Chinese city that's demolished by authorities, only to be defiantly resurrected in cyberspace as an online oasis for political and creative freedom [source: Poole].