Vernor Vinge, first author to describe cyberspace and 'The Singularity,' dies at 79

CompSci and math professor by trade, he envisaged a galactic Usenet, and was utterly brilliant

Obituary Science fiction author and academic Vernor Vinge has departed this life, aged 79.

Vinge is credited as the first author to describe an immersive cyberspace, which he outlined in his 1979 novella True Names – five years before William Gibson's Neuromancer brought the idea to the mainstream.

Vinge's cyberspace – which he termed the "Other Plane" – was accessible by attaching electrodes to one's skull. Inhabitants referred to themselves as "Warlocks" and over the course of the novella illicitly accessed government databases.

Suffice to say, True Names made a mark and elements of the short work became staples of both SciFi and CompSci.

In 1993 he penned delivered a conference paper titled "The coming technological singularity: How to survive in the post-human era" that predicted the following:

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended

He wasn't out by many years on the AI prediction. And his theory of "The Singularity" – an event after which human history changes course – was widely admired and even became the theme of a university in Silicon Valley.

His novels often used concepts from computer science.

1992's A Fire Upon The Deep imagined a galaxy-scale messaging network that resembled Usenet and connected across a network of space stations that acted as routers.

1999's A Deepness in the Sky described an alien civilization emerging into its information age and using steganography and cryptography to communicate with one faction of invading human forces while hiding its intentions from others.

Both won the Hugo Award for the year's best science fiction novel.

2006's Rainbows End (another Hugo winner) told a tale of an older person who had his mental function restored by a cure for Alzheimer's Disease and was then sent back to high school to learn how to live in a networked society – including how to use search engines. The novel included descriptions of what we would now call augmented reality, haptics, and the internet of things.

Reg columnist Mark Pesce met Vinge when they collaborated on a screenplay for True Names and said he was thinking of the author last week when he learned of prompt injection attack worms – a concept he feels the author described in sections of A Fire Upon The Deep.

"He is a loss, but what an incredibly talented person," Pesce said.

Your correspondent never met Vinge but shares those views. I recently re-read A Deepness In The Sky and it remains thrilling and brilliantly clever. I'm terribly sad he's gone.

Happily, Vinge's most celebrated works are in the public domain. You can find True Names in the Internet Archive [PDF] and "The coming technological singularity" in a NASA archive.

Take the time to consider one or both this coming weekend, dear reader, to know the mind of an author and thinker who has positively impacted us all. ®

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