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10 of the World’s Most Groundbreaking Futurists

5

William Gibson

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].

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