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Podcast #107. Cyberpunk Use Cases.

April 24th, 2019

April 18, 2019. Talk at the IOHK Summit blockchain conference in Miami Beach. 20 min. Topics: Cyberpunk, personal web cralwers, telepathy. The slides slides and a rough draft of the talk can be viewed as a post on Rudy’s Blog at
Press the arrow below to play the audio of “Cyberpunk Use Cases.”


And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

Podcast #106. Rucker & Wolfram on Computation, Reality, and the Mind

April 22nd, 2019

April 18, 2019. Conversation with Stephen Wolfram while at the IOHK blockchain conference in Miami Beach. Topics: AI, unpredictable computations, the nature of reality. Press the arrow below to play “Rucker & Wolfram on Computation, Reality, and the Mind.”


And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

“Cyberpunk Use Cases”

April 16th, 2019

I gave two presentations at the IOHK Summit in Miami Beach, Florida, April 18, 2019. IOHK is a crypto/blockchain company with the full name Input Output Hong Kong, although in fact they’re not currently based in Hong Kong.

I gave a large-audience 20  minute talk, described in this post, and workshop-style 40 minute talk,  “Lifebox for Telepathy and Immortality,” described in the previous post.

This “Cyberpunk Use Cases” post contains the slides for the talk, the draft text for the talk, and audio of the talk.  So you can listen and scroll through the images and words at the same time.

Click the player icon below to play the audio right now. Or click the talk title to download the mp3 audio file and listen to it on your own player. Or listen to the talk via Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

Cyberpunk Use Cases. By Rudy Rucker.

Where I’m From

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky during the 1950s and 60s. I read a lot of science fiction. And I was fascinated by the Beat writers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.

In 1963, I left Louisville, and went to Swarthmore College near Philadelphia. I wanted to be a writer, but I majored in Mathematics. I didn’t like the English Lit classes. I figured I’d learn to write on my own.

After Swarthmore, I married my college girlfriend, Sylvia. We went to grad school at Rutgers in New Jersey, and I got a Ph. D. in mathematical logic. I went on to have a fairly good career as a writer. I’ve published about forty books. I’ve written popular science books about infinity, about the fourth dimension, and and about the nature of computation. Many of my books are science fiction novels. We’re talking high-class literary science fiction.

My best-known novel is Software, written in 1980. It was one of the earliest cyberpunk novels. The idea behind Software seems simple now.

  • It should be possible to extract the patterns stored in a person’s brain, and transfer these onto a computer or a robot.

You’ve seen this scenario in a hundred movies and TV shows, right? But I was the first one to write about it. In 1980, “soul as software” was an unheard of thought. Hardly anyone even knew the word “software.”

To make my Software especially punk, I made the brain-to-software transfer very gnarly. A gang of scary-funny hillbillies extracted people’s mental software by slicing off the tops of their skulls and eating their brains with cheap steel spoons. One of the hillbillies was a robot in disguise, and his stomach analyzed the brain tissue. Did I mention that I grew up in Kentucky?

I went on to write three sequels: Software, Wetware, Freeware, and Realware. They’re collected in my Ware Tetralogy. And you can read my Complete Stories for free online. Read one of my stories before you go to sleep tonight. You’ll have interesting dreams.

In grad school I was a hippie, in the Eighties I was a punk, and after that I settled down to being a cyberpunk. Even so, I’m a reliable family man, with three children, and five grandchildren.

A photo of my cyberpunk children!

Being a respected writer doesn’t necessarily pay very well, so for most of my life I had a day job. I was a math professor until I was forty, and then we  moved to California, and I became a computer science professor at San Jose State, in Silicon Valley.

I let the chip into my heart. At first I was faking it as a CS prof, but eventually I knew what I was doing, and I did some work as a software engineer at Autodesk. I published a book on software engineering for videogames. And I published several programs involving cellular automata, chaos, videogames, and artificial life.

And now here I am speaking at conference on blockchain. What am I going to say? Well, I’ll spin out some fantasies about things we might see in future. Weird, insane, cyberpunk use cases.


Cyberpunk is about computers merging into our reality And it’s about maintaining our individuality in the face of that. As a writer, it was it was a lucky break that I ended up working in Silicon Valley. It’s like—what if William Blake had gone to work amid the “dark satanic looms” of a textile mill?

Cyberpunk explores the boundaries between humans, daily life, and computers.

Cyberpunk = Cyber + Punk.

Cyber is about the real world blending with the computer world.
Punk is about maintaining our independence and our attitude.

Cyber encompasses three trends.

  • Software → People. Programs imitate us.
  • People → Software. We behave like robots.
  • Software ↔ Reality. The cloud merges with daily life.

Software → People.

  • Bots, that is, intelligent programs, emulate people, taking over some of our jobs.
  • AI used to seem unattainable. But for many tasks we can beat the problem to death by training neural nets on big data sets.
  • We don’t program high-level AI. Logicians have proved we can never understand AI at our level. But we can evolve human-level AI. It’s an odd win.
  • That is, we can emulate our minds without ever knowing how the minds work. All it takes is big data, big crunch, and time.

People → Software.

  • As a way of keeping pace, people enhance or augment themselves with the smart agents in their devices.
  • The ultimate move will be digital immortality, that is, making a lasting software model of yourself. I call this kind of model a lifebox, and I wrote about it in my tome, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. I’ll discuss lifeboxes in my workshop presentation.

Software ↔ Reality.

  • Our daily world is saturated with the internet. Like damp sand at the edge of the sea. Both solid and liquid.
  • Face to face conversations are increasingly replaced by messaging, video, and social.
  • Stores close and move into the cloud. We shop online.
  • We use VR to emulate the world, for entertainment, for training, and for predictions.

Cryptocurrency, blockchain, and smart contracts are definitely cyber. Physical money tokens become patterns in the cloud. Signed agreements are in a database. In a smart contract, it may be that some of the participants are bots. A lawyer bot, an agent bot, and a collection bot. I think of the bots as remoras attached to a shark. The contract is the shark.


Computers aren’t everything. Behaving like a robot is unpleasant. It’s more fun to be human.

The VR worlds of videogames are too clean. Even their scuff marks are clean. As Bruce Sterling once said, “We cyberpunks need to get in there with our spray cans.”

The physical world is grungy and gnarly. Wherever I am, I always look for the chaos, the natural gnarl, and when I find it I feel safer.

Punk is about turning your back on conventional top-down rules. Cyberpunk film and literature breaks free of the boring old plastic, white-bread visions of the future. And folding in more of our actual, daily world.

Punk is for countercultural, decentralized politics. Like, “You’re not my boss. I’m not listening. I’m doing it my way.” In a nutshell?

Punk means give the finger and walk away.

Cryptocurrency, blockchain, and distributed information systems have a definite quality of punk. Many in these areas have a libertarian bent, a wish to be invisible to the government, to maintain privacy, and to evade central control. A good fit for punk. Don’t get permission, just do it.

Internet Goodies

The internet turned out much better than anyone could have hoped. It grew and spread before business or the government could shackle it. The people who designed and released the internet—they were cyberpunks. I’m not saying they were hipsters, no, they were geeks. But they were cyberpunk geeks.

They released the internet into the wild. Hoping for these goodies.

  • Deal. Buy and sell online.
  • Publish. Post what you like. Others can find your content.
  • Search. World library in your pocket. Search it all. Nobody watches.
  • Talk. Unsupervised messaging, talk, video.
  • Archive. Stash your data in the cloud.


Warning to internet users: “Beware the beak!”

The browser makers, the social networks, the online merchants, and national security—they want to co-opt your goodies. They want to maintain silos of data about you, mostly so they can pelt you with ads.

Even in a democracy, you don’t automatically keep your rights to freedom and privacy. You have to win back these rights, over and over and over again. If you stop being a rebel, they make you a slave.

We need a recalcitrant cyberpunk attitude. Give the finger and walk away? Well, sure. But how?

Three Cyberpunk Use Cases

I’m going to hit you with three out-there cyberpunk SF scenarios. I’ll relate them to Search, Talk, and Archive.

Enhanced Goodies Drawback Old Fix New Fix
Crystal Ball
Ads, Data Mining Ad-blockers, VPN Everyone has a Search Engine
Crypto, Filters Recognition
Impersonation, Spies Crypto, ID Memory thread

Crystal Ball

A commercial search engine tracks you and serves up ads. Conceivably the search engine tells some authority about nasty searches. Yes, you can use ad-blockers and use a VPN to be somewhat anonymous. But even without knowing anything about you, the search engine can skew the hits it offers you. Typically skewing the hits in favor of whatever advertisers or political factions have gotten to the search engine company.

And conversely, your publishing efforts will be unsuccessful if the owners of the global search engines choose not to serve links to your content.

The solution is radical, but simple. Run your own search engine. But, wait, a search engine company is constantly crawling the web, storing data in banks of computers worldwide, and curating their data with massive AI.

Ever heard of Moore’s Law? It’s not unreasonable to suppose that in ten or twenty years you’ll have a decent global search machine running on its own in your pocket. Maybe it won’t even be a chip. Maybe we’ll have gone to quantum computing by then and your search machine will be…a tiny “crystal ball.” A little supercomputer, either way.

You’ll automatically enrich your crystal ball’s history as you surf the web. It’ll run off down the branches coming off the places you go. It’ll be an expert on things you interested in.

And—the indie DIY punk aspect—you’ll share your crystal ball’s data peer to peer. But only with trusted parties. In a way it’ll be like Wikipedia. Trusted users building an encyclopedia. There could be a blockchain element akin to the Wikipedia edit tracker.


People are not going to be pecking at tiny smart phone keyboards in ten or twenty years. Already voice typing is close to being usable. But it’s a little embarrassing to be talking out loud to your phone, especially when the person next to you yells, “What?” and that goes into your message. And in the other direction, it’s slow to have to listen to a computer voice. And half the time screen fonts are too small to read.

We want to go beyond kludgy. haptic interfaces like keys, screen. touch, and voice. What you need what I call an “uvvy” patch to put on the back of your neck. A soft piezoplastic slug. It communicates directly with the net. It’s like a cell phone that’s glued onto your body. And—big add-on to the specs—an uvvy can read your brainwaves. Transform your thoughts into images and text. and of course we want the uvvy to be removable.

A visitor from the past might take our smart phones for a type of telepathy. But the phone, or the uvvy, just sends pictures and words. For true telepathy we want more than a silent videophone conversation.

  • Telepathy involves sharing access to thought patterns in your neurons. Instead of sending information to someone else, you send them a link to the location where that information is stored in your brain. And they can access it there.
  • It’s like, you send someone a link to an image on your webpage. Instead of emailing them a JPG image as an attachment.
  • It’s like, you send send them a link to a thought pattern in your brain. Instead of sending them a bunch of words about your idea and expecting them to convert your words into a model of your thought. Like I’m trying to do with you right now.
  • In two-way telepathy, people might let your brain patterns merge. Super thoughts!

So then comes porno, scams, and spam. Telepathic hucksters will want to overlay your sensations, push into your thoughts, and infect y0ur dreams—should you be foolish enough to fall asleep while wearing your uvvy.

How do we prevent this? Using a central authority is totally out of the question. It’s got to be peer to peer. We might start with a shared key protocol. But the key would have to be unhackable. Something very convoluted.

What if the key is related to the process of recognizing someone. Recognize them in that deep, reliable way that you recognize a life-long friend from their face, voice, conversational style, and overall personality..

Having a given personality is, one might say, a proof of work, in the cryptocurrency sense. A mature personality is, in a sense, a blockchain, with each new state of consciousness containing pointers to previous states.

But what about telepathy with people you don’t know? Unsafe telepathy could be worse than unsafe sex! Maybe we’d want to go for something like letters of introduction. Like, “Rudy sent me.”

Digital Immorality

So how about making a software model of a person? So that, like, you can get a beloved partner back? In the near term, we already have a simple way for mimicking this process, something that I call lifebox software. I’ve been writing about it for years. It hasn’t caught on in a big way, but I think it will. I’m going to talk about it in my workshop session later today.

But maybe being perserved as something like a website isn’t enough?

But, wait! How about actual immortality? Let’s suppose that a more futuristic lifebox is supported by a funky and extremely powerful device. Perhaps the support platform is bio-computational, or perhaps it’s a quantum computer. And let’s say that the lifebox has that elusive sense of “watching itself watch itself” that seems to characterize conscious thought.

Here we’d have an impersonation issue. It seems like I’d prefer to have just one posthumous lifebox ghost—and not a slew of Elvis-imitator-type poseurs mixing in with my estate, my work, and my surviving family.

But what about copies that are reasonably close. As with telepathy, there’s the “recognition” factor. Your thread of consciousness is a kind of blockchain. The richness of memories are, in their own way, a proof of work. It’s a block chain thing as the references are subtle. The thread of consciousness is a block chain. A non-hacked, non-forged. authentic record of my thoughts.

Preserve your software, the rest is meat?

That’s true, up to a point, but don’t forget—where there’s filth, there’s life!

In the long run, natural computations are where it’s at.  And by natural computation I mean a whole range of possiblities, including the functioning of an organism, the mass movements of a society, the thoughts in your mind, and even the quantum tingling inside a rock.


For more info about these topics, check out my workshop talk, “Lifebox for Telepathy and Immortality.”

And visit the links on my home page,

“Lifebox for Telepathy and Immortality”

April 16th, 2019

I gave two presentations at the IOHK Summit in Miami Beach, Florida, April 18, 2019. IOHK is a crypto/blockchain company with the full name Input Output Hong Kong.  I gave a large-audience 20  minute talk, “Cyberpunk Use Cases“, and workshop-style 40 minute talk,  “Lifebox for Telepathy and Immortality

And I did a blog post for each talk, containing the slides, and drafts of what I planned to say…the links above go to the talks’ pages.

I’m also making podcasts of the talks.  Here’s a link to the podcast for “Cyberpunk Use Cases.” And the podcast for “Lifebox for Telepathy and Immortality” should be up fairly soon.

At the conference I also taped a great conversation with Stephen Wolfram, and that’s a podcast, too.


What is a Lifebox?

In the next few years we’ll see consumer products that allow people to make convincing emulations of themselves. I call a system like this a lifebox. A lifebox has three layers.

  • Data. A large and rich data base with a person’s writings, plus videos of them, and recorded interviews.
  • Search. An interactive search engine. You ask the lifebox a question, it does a search on the data, and it comes up with a relevant answer.
  • AI. A veneer of AI. The lifebox remembers a given user’s search history and inputs, so as to piece together a semblance of a continuing conversation, or even a friendship. And, of course, and animated head and body of the lifebox creator.

Producing basic lifeboxes is well within our current abilities. And over time the AI layers may evolve to pass the Turing test. A lifebox is  somewhat like a personal website—but larger, more densely hyperlinked, and with a sophisticated interface.

The links among the lifebox items are important—because the links express the author’s sensibility, that is, the person’s characteristic way of jumping from one thought to the next.

The lifebox gives users the impression of having a conversation with the author. The user inputs serve as search terms to locate hits of lifebox info. And the AI interface confabulates the hits into sentences and anecdotes and repartee.

More than that, over time, a lifebox will track the ongoing conversations with each particular user, creating a sense of friendships.

Training a Lifebox

How do you train your lifebox?  Certainly you can input your writings, your emails, your social media posts, your photos, and the like.

Beyond this the lifebox can interview you, prompting you to tell it stories. Using voice-recognition, the lifebox links your anecdotes via the words and phrases you use. And the lifebox asks simple follow-up questions about the things you say.

For ongoing neural-net-style training, the lifebox AI can listen in on your conversations, and tweak its weights to better match the things that you say.

Lifebox Use Case: Interactive Memoir

The initial market for the lifebox is simple. Old people want to write down their life stories, and with a lifebox they don’t have to write, they can get by with just talking. The lifebox software is smart enough to organize the material into a shapely whole. Like a ghostwriter.

The hard thing about creating your life story is that your recollections aren’t linear; they’re a tangled banyan tree of branches that split and merge.

The lifebox uses hypertext links to hook together everything you say. Your eventual users will carve their own paths through your stories—interrupting and asking questions.

I imagine a white-haired old duffer named Ned. Ned is pacing in his small backyard—a concrete slab with some beds of roses—he’s talking and gesturing, wearing a headset. and with the lifebox in his shirt pocket. The lifebox speaks to him in a woman’s pleasant voice.

At some point Ned dies. But he’s trained his lifebox. His grandchildren, little Billy and big Sis, play with Ned’s lifebox. Being kids, they mock it, not putting on the polite faces that children are expected to show.

Little Billy asks the Grandpa-lifebox about his first car, and the lifebox starts talking about Grandpa’s electric-powered Flurble and about how he used the car for dates. Big Sis asks the lifebox about the first girl Grandpa dated, and the lifebox goes off on that for a while, and then Sis looks around to make sure Mom’s not in earshot.

The coast is clear, so Sis asks naughty questions. “Did you and your dates do it? In the car? Did you use a rubber?” Shrieks of laughter.

“You’re a little too young to hear about that,” Grandpa-lifebox calmly says. “Let me tell you more about the car.”

Lifebox Use Case: Natural Language Recognition

In the intimate verbal conversations that you have with a lover, spouse, or close friend, spoken language feels as effortless as singing or dancing. The ideas flow and the minds merge. In these empathetic exchanges, each of you draws on a clear sense of your partner’s history and core consciousness.

By way of enhancing traditional text and image communications, people might use lifeboxes to introduce themselves to each other. Like studying someone’s home page before meeting them.

A lifebox would serve as a conversational context. Sharing lifebox contexts replaces the mass of common memories and cultural referents that you depend on with friends.

If an AI agent has access to your lifebox, it will do much better at understanding the content of your speech. We could finally gain traction on the intractable AI problem of getting a deep understanding of natural language.


When we use language our words act as instructions for assembling thoughts. But telepathy could work differently. By way of analogy, think about three different ways you might  tell a person about something you saw.

  • Text. Give a verbal description of the image.
  • Image. Show them a photo.
  • Link. Give them a link to the photo on your webpage.

Let’s suppose now that we come up with something like a brain-wave-based cell phone. I call such a device an uvvy. An uvvy might instead be like a removable plastic leech that perches on the back of a user’s neck.

(Note in passing that one would never want to have anything to do with an implanted device of this nature. Malware, pwning, crashes, limpware upgrades? No thanks.!)

The most obvious use of an uvvy would be to use it like a videophone, sending words and images.  But I want you to imagine people sharing direct links into each others’ minds!

I refer to this type of advanced telepathy by the word teep.

Lifebox Use Case: Understanding Teep

A possible problem with brain-link teep is that you might have trouble deciphering the intricate structures of someone else’s thoughts—seen from the inside.

Sharing lifebox contexts could help make sense of another person’s internal brain links.

This is a variant of the problem of understanding natural language.

I’m saying that, as well as using the ethereal brain-wave-type signals, you’ll want to use hyperlinks into the other user’s lifebox context. The combination of the two channels can make the teep comprehensible.

Lifebox Use Case: Blocking Ads and Impersonation.

It would be very bad to be getting ads and spam via teep.

And it would be bad to have someone impersonating me and teeping things to other poeple.

I’m groping for some kind of safety filter. A person might use their lifebox as a transducer during brain-to-brain teep contact.  Rather than you reaching directly into my brains, you might channel the requests through the my lifebox.

How to track the legit lifeboxes?  Track them with a blockchain?


If what my brain does is to carry out computation-like deterministic processes, then in principle there ought to be a computer of some kind that can emulate it.

Yes, the brain is analog rather than digital, but perhaps a highly fine-grained digital computer would suffice. Like a pixelized photo.

Alternately, the computers of the future may be analog devices as well—one thinks of biocomputation and quantum computation.

In trying to produce humanlike constructs, we have four requirements.

  • Hardware. Device with a computation rate and memory space that’s comparable to a human brain. Not terminally out of reach.
  • Software. An operating system that allows the device to behave like a human mind. The most likely option is to beat the problem to death by training multi-layer neural nets.
  • Data. A lifetime’s worth of memories. Lifeboxes!
  • Consciousness. How?

Recipe for Consciousness.

Short answer:
Consciousness = “I am.

Long answer, from Antonio Damasio, as explianed in my Lifebox tome :

  1. Images of objects.
  2. Image of self.
  3. Movie-in-the-brain.
  4. Consciousness =  Watch your self watching your movie-in-the-brain.

Lifebox Use Case: Juicy Ghosts

Suppose we can copy a personality to a lifebox, and that the lifebox has such a strong AI that it enjoys self-awareness, and it feels it is a copy of the original person.  Call such a construct a ghost.

You don’t want Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook or their like to own your ghost. You want your ghost to be a free agent.  How can you afford a sufficiently powerful device to run your personality?  Let’s suppose we’ve got biocomputing working. Port yourself onto a dog.

So you might be a juicy ghost—living in the brain of a dog, a bird, or a rat. A big win in having a living body is that you then have sense organs, mobility, and an ability to act in the world.

If people can spawn off juicy ghosts, we have problems with ownership, inheritance, culpability, and liability.  It would be best to only allow one ghost version of a person at a time. How to register which device or organism is your ghost. Again it seems like blockchain could play a role…


I discussed the lifebox at some length in my futurological novel, Saucer Wisdom, and in my nonfiction tome,The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul>.

See also my online lifebox prototype, “Search Rudy’s Lifebox,” at

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