Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Internet-of-Things meets Literature-of-Ideas

The January 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction features a wonderful new novella by Professor Doktor Sterling, "Kiosk," concerning the revolutionary implications of fabrication technology, set entirely on a mid-21st century Slavic street-corner in the aftermath of the coming crises. One is reminded of Fredric Jameson's comments about a recent anthology of Sterling's short fiction: "Authentic artifacts of postmodernity and little masterpieces in their own right"..."Hunter Thompsonian global tourism [with] real epistemological value." Fun, trenchant, and bursting with future-altering brain bombs.

Here, entrepreneurial kiosk vendor Borislav confers with his gangster pal.

"The market for misery is always huge." Borislav knocked back another drink. "I'm talking too much tonight."

"Boots, I need you to talk to me. I just made more money for less work than I have in a long time. Now I'm even on salary inside a foreign embassy. This situation's getting serious. I need to know the philosophy — how an invisible hand makes real things. I gotta figure that out before the Europeans do."

"It's a market search engine for an Internet-of-Things."

Ace lifted and splayed his fingers. "Look, tell me something I can get my hands on. You know. Something that a man can steal."

"Say you type two words at random: any two words. Type those two words into an Internet search engine. What happens?"

Ace twirled his shot glass. "Well, a search engine always hits on something, that's for sure. Something stupid, maybe, but always something."

"That's right. Now imagine you put two *products* into a search engine for things. So let's say it tries to sort and mix together...a parachute and a pair of shoes. What do you get from that kind of search?"

Ace thought it over. "I get it. You get a shoe that blows up a plane."

Borislav shook his head. "No, no. See, that is your problem right there. You're in the racket, you're a fixer. So you just don't think commercially."

"How can I outthink a machine like that?"

"You're doing it right now, Ace. Search engines have no ideas, no philosophy. They never think at all. Only people think and create ideas. Search engines are just programmed to search through what people want. Then they just mix, match, and spit up some results. Endless results. Those results don't matter, though, unless the people want them. And here, the people want them!"

The waitress brought a bottle, peppered sauerkraut, and a leathery loaf of bread. Ace watched her hips sway as she left. "Well, as for me, I could go for some of *that*. Those Iraqi chicks have got it going on."


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Paul said...

Reports of a new Sterling story are always gladly received (in this domicile, at least) ... though it's a mite frustrating for us UK subscribers to hear about the January issue of F&SF when we still haven't gotten our hands on the December one yet! *sigh*

Christopher Brown said...

Mine just arrived on Saturday, and I'm sure you'll have yours soon -- if it makes you feel better, we have to wait for Interzone over here...