Interview with Neil Stephenson, the father of Metaverse and the author of “Avalanche”

Science fiction writers are able to accept new ideas and new research very quickly.

Few people write issues that affect the survival of mankind. Few people have won multiple literary awards for writing science fiction. At the same time, almost no one will join a large company valued at tens of billions of dollars as the chief futurist. But this Three seemingly impossible things were done by the legendary science fiction writer Neal Stephenson.

Writers, scholars, video game designers, and technical consultants are all of Stephenson’s expertise. He has also written historical epic novels “Cryptonomicon” and “The Baroque Cycle”, science fiction “Diamond Age” ( The Diamond Age), contemporary thrillers “Zodiac” and “REAMDE”, science fiction epic “Seven Eve”, etc.

One of the characteristics of Stephenson’s works is his super predictability. His “Avalanche” published in 1992 introduced the concept of “Metaverse” before the “Matrix” series, and his 1994 “Zodiac” also It is more than 20 years earlier than NeuraLink (brain-computer interface created by Musk).

Stephenson’s latest science fiction “Termination Shock” also continues the prophetic style of other books, depicting a scene in which humans take technological measures to intervene in climate change in order to survive. His imagination, unique perception of technological trends, immersive literary style, and attention to detail have made him a benchmark for science fiction writers. Next, “Forbes” reporter “Alex Zhavoronkov” will show us this The father of the Metaverse-Stephenson.

Question 1: You are the most famous science fiction writer today. Can you tell me your creative process and how you chose the theme? Once you choose a topic, what kind of research will you do?

My creation process is like catching water with a bucket, because ideas always come out continuously, so I need to put a bucket under the faucet so that I can catch them at all times. If not, I will change. Get anxious and crazy.

How to catch this water can take many forms, but for me, the best way is to write a book. I’m almost always writing, and I don’t have a vacation or pause between finishing a book and starting the next, because many ideas will drive me crazy after they have no way out.

I often have some ideas in my mind, and these ideas may become the subject of the next book. When I start my next project, I often make decisions on impulse. So this is not planned in advance, it is just a hasty decision based on what I think is the most interesting and creative.

But some ideas still have to be brewed in his head for a while to make him correct. Once I decide which book to write next, I will spend some time doing research. If it is a history book, I may have to do some research on the story. The important thing is that the story must be attractive and interesting to the reader.

They (books) must start in a way that attracts readers, attracts them and makes them interested in the characters, but sometimes, over-studying the storyline at the beginning may hinder this process. So, I tried to focus on the beginning of the story first. Then, if I feel I have a good start, I might slow down a bit and let the research catch up with what I wrote.

The biggest contribution of the research is to provide some details and plot development, if I was completely making up, I might not think of these. And in “Seveneves”, when I was studying and learning the technical details of orbital mechanics and orbits and rockets, it provided some ideas that I would never think of. If I just imagined it out of thin air, I would definitely not.

What I want to say is that research tends to reach its peak halfway through the project, and then beyond a certain point, it becomes a bit counterproductive. Because the more research you do, the more you feel you should include it. You don’t want to spend time and energy, sometimes even money on research, and then never use it, which is stupid. But there is always a temptation to keep our research there, even if it may no longer serve the purpose of the story.

Question 2: You usually write in a cyberpunk style, but the style of “The Baroque Cycle” is completely different. How did you make this transition?

I did write some historical novels before, such as “The Baroque Cycle”, and I personally like it very much.

The book “The Baroque Cycle” was created 20 years ago. Based on my interest in European history and martial arts, it was created by me and several other writers. It tells a long and long story about martial arts in the past. It lasted from ancient Athens until the 20th century.

We have thought about adapting it into a movie and moving it to Hollywood. But then we still wanted to tell this story in a novel, so he was designed as a novel or a series of novels. So as a creative group, we finally came up with a story about when Mongolia invaded Europe in the 13th century, when the Mongols were about to sweep Poland, Germany, and Hungary and enter Western Europe. The central event of this story is the great Mongolian event. The khan has passed away. According to their tradition, when the great khan dies, all other khans must return to Mongolia and choose the next khan.

So the premise of “The Baroque Cycle” is that this is not an accident. According to official historical records, Khan died in a hunting accident. For the fun of the story, we claimed in the novel that a group of European martial arts masters traveled across Asia to hunt him down, specifically to trigger the Mongolian tradition to force them to stop aggression. This is the storyline of “The Baroque Cycle”. We originally wrote it for electronic publication, and later, Amazon decided to publish it as a series of novels. Then, different members of the team produced its sequel, as well as some comic novels and other peripherals set in that universe.

Question 3: How did you come to Magic Leap? What do they need to allow you to work in a new field?

At first I didn’t know about them (Magic Leap). Later, four people from the company came to my house. They were very mysterious, but they told me something under the non-disclosure agreement and showed me some of the technologies they were working on. I Moved by the future backed by these technologies, I came to Magic Leap.

Then I went to Florida and met CEO Ronnie Abovitz, which was an opportunity for me to do something that I thought was interesting. I like everyone I meet and I find this project very attractive. For many years, I have always had a habit of doing some technical projects in the afternoon. I write in the morning, but during the rest of the day, I need to do something I can do to divert my attention from the book.

At different times in my career, I worked at Blue Origin, Intellectual Ventures Labs, and the cross-media startup Subutai, which produced “the Mongoliad”, so I was free at certain moments. I decided to give it a try, and started working for them, and finally created a small team in Seattle, trying to create some original content that can run on this device.

This is a challenging and attractive job, because AR content should be aware of a person’s environment and respond to a person’s actions and surrounding environment. It shouldn’t be just a movie, so create one that can do this. The hardware device is a very interesting challenge.

You must have a device that uses a camera to observe the entire environment, possibly lidar, other sensors, and then it must integrate what it sees into an accurate three-dimensional model of the room. This thing is called SLAM in the jargon, which means synchronous positioning and drawing. The device either retrieves information from the cache or creates information dynamically. Then, it has a model of the room, which is constantly changing and updated. Then you have to consider occlusion. If I have a chair and there is something behind the chair, then it needs to be blocked by the chair, just like in the real world.

But the basic capabilities that these systems must have are easy to say but difficult to do. Even if you have these capabilities, you still can’t start creating content, because you also need a game engine designed to create three-dimensional content. To this end, we developed an artificial intelligence application called “Baby Goats” and released it as a sample application to help other developers.

We are also committed to a more ambitious IP project, that is, to create an original IP world based on augmented reality, just like the HoloLens that Microsoft is doing, but it requires a buyer’s market and a buyer’s market to promote it.

Question 4: How do you view the topic of Metaverse? How is it different from the immortality you discussed in “Fall, or Dodge in Hell”?

First of all, I think we are still far away from the Metaverse. Take Magic Leap itself. The Baby Goats application I mentioned earlier does not work, and the current performance specifications of these devices are not enough to work. This is the same as the chicken-egg debate. Should there be equipment or content first?

And in “Fall, or Dodge in Hell” (analog and digital, man and machine, angel and devil, god and follower, finite and eternal grand drama) I am more flexible with science. In “Avalanche”, I was very strict with orbital mechanics and rockets and all these things, and in “Fall”, of course I did some research on brain scans, etc., but I want the story to go creatively, whether it is or not I will write down the reality.

In this case, I have one or several ideas. One is from some technicians in Silicon Valley in the 90s. You will see them wearing these ID bracelets with instructions on how to freeze their bodies. I think this is very interesting.I was born as a novelist. If someone did this 20 years ago and signed all the documents and legalized it, then they would forget it and die suddenly, so this is one of the ideas that contributed to the “Fall” .

Then the other stems from a physical examination. I have reached the age to have a regular colonoscopy every once in a while. When they let you undergo the procedure, you lie there, you are normal, you are conscious, and you are interacting with that People talk, they inject this drug, and within a few seconds, your consciousness disappears, it is shut down, completely gone, until after a while, from the point of view of consciousness, you experience a “resurrection from the dead”.

So this raises all kinds of interesting philosophical questions, such as what does it mean to be alive and to be conscious? I am almost 62 years old now, but the 20-year-old Neil who went to college in Boston is dead, which connects the 20-year-old Neil in my memory. I’m thinking about something like this, and I think it’s an interesting topic. So in theory, if we reach that level of technology, at least we should be able to repair the damage caused by cosmic radiation and many other forms of damage, so that the body can maintain a more or less healthy state. But in science fiction, people are still aging and mortal.

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