The future is already here but it’s just not very evenly distributed.

—William Gibson

In the early ‘80s, a new genre of science fiction appeared. A genre emancipated from the old utopian vision of his predecessors, prospecting on an ultra-technological dark and raw future without goals or ideals or heroes: the cyberpunk genre.

After the shock of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, the short story cyberpunk by Bruce Bethke was released in 1983 and officially introduced this term. The word would then be popularized through two major authors, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson — in 1984, Neuromancer by William Gibson popularized an other emblematic term, cyberspace — in 1985, Bruce Sterling published Schismatrix — in 1986, were released the anthologiesMirrorshades, Burning Chrome and Count Zero from William Gibson — in 1988, Mona Lisa Overdrive closed the famous Sprawl trilogy initiated with Neuromancer.

Critics were enthusiastic, and readers were numerous. The wave was launched, it invaded homes alongside personal computers and video games. It spread simultaneously in all artistic circles. Movies based on the novels were big successes. Meanwhile, electronic music became more and more popular.

William Gibson

William Gibson

In the 90s, cyberpunk themes are becoming common. Technology merges with fiction, and so does society.

Since then, some have pronounced the movement dead — by breathlessness, disinterest or assimilation by pop culture. But cyberpunk works continue to appear. Beyond the literary scope, they continue to echo the present, heeding the new order of the world, of society and technology.

Faithful to its original spirit, the genre evolves, it adapts.

Though it has no official definition, cyberpunk is characterized by multiple elements which can be used to classify a work, an activity, a behavior, an attitude as cyberpunk. When it is discussed or judged only according to its technological component, or when reduced to an apparent form of human improvement, cyberpunk is often confused with technophile movements like posthumanism and transhumanism. This is a misconception, however, because these two movements may be very far and even opposed (and transhumanism says nothing about how society should be organized).

Technology — especially computers and communication networks — has become the major factor for the future of our societies. From their own development, control and uses, two worldviews can emerge.

A world where technologies empower the individual and the exercise of freedom, and favor collaboration and sharing. Where they give birth to a more egalitarian society where everyone has the right to know, to learn, to speak, to decide and where democracy regains its original popular sense.

Another worldview where technology leads to an oligarchy. A world where society is shaped entirely by huge systems — economic, political, social, technological — that serve private or individual interests to the detriment of the multitude. A world driven to dystopia. A cyberpunk world.

Cyberpunk World

Our world is already on this path. Signs, events are visible, transformations are engaged. All areas are concerned.

Technology is not neutral, it serves interests, creates dependencies, influences our relationship to the world and its social models. In reaction, cyberpunk genre was gradually turned into a [counterculture][counter], a way of life and thinking.

Cyberpunk works do not talk about the future but about the present. Behind their form, their surface, we discover questions and reflections that sound as warnings. They give us opportunities and keys to understand, to think outside the box.

But that’s not all there is to it.

Like the figure of the hacker — the original one, not the figure created by the media — the archetypes of the cyberpunk genre can help us to find practical solutions and change our technological behavior by building an ethic that, as a side effect, would inflect the trend.

To illustrate the genre, here is an anticipation fiction describing a world that has completely toppled over. This fiction was written to accompany the latest post-industrial electro album of Mind Teardown

City Art



We’re so intelligent now that we’re too smart to survive. We’re so well informed that we lost all sense of meaning. We know the price of everything, but we’ve lost all sense of value. We have everyone under surveillance, but we’ve lost all sense of shame.

-— Bruce Sterling, Distraction

The changeover was gradual. Seeking control at the highest level, corporations acted as the exclusive financier of the political world. They became too big to fail, then hegemonic. Political power found itself replaced by economic strength.

All conditions were met to satisfy exclusively their needs. No more law limits to their strategies of concentration, privatization, globalization, exploitation and monopoly.

From the evolution of multinationals, conglomerates, zaibatsu, the megacorporations have become the new way of corporatocracy and organization. A feudal world emerged, built on the ruins of states and nations of the 21st century.

States were abolished, their roles and functions transferred to corporations. A tiny minority were transformed into powerful dictatorships able to compete economically and militarily.

Nationalisms are now corporatisms by nature.

Public Enforcement

Trade agreements validate and resolve disagreements. They are coordinated and regulated by supracorporatist authorities If a win-win situation for stakeholders is not found and accepted, then corporate wars are declared. The corpos then battle on military theaters, on markets and in the cyberspace.

Administrative and technical control systems, sousveillance, mass surveillance and mass media have been greatly reinforced and deployed, enslaving the individual in a constraining social system.

Megacities are formed entirely of urbanized regions, divided into sectors. Among them corpo-sectors citadels, fortified defensively and aggressively, the ostentatious centers of demonstrations of power.

The notions of public goods or public services are outdated, forgotten. Everything has value so everything is privatized and exploitable.

The world is subject to hyperconsumption, cult brands and global ultraliberalism. Everything can be sold. Everything can be bought. Everything is already in the market.

A powerful and prosperous black market provides what is not available, authorized or accessible. It is also a place for product experimentation. Successes in the black market later define the new trends.

Choices are endless, limitless. All needs, desires, conscious or unconscious, spontaneous or suggested, are on the menu. Prices are fixed only by the supply-demand engine and never incorporate the cost paid by direct and indirect victims.

The most sensitive, strategic and vital market is the information market.

In this age of communication, at the speed of electrons, information circulates and can be stored everywhere — in data silos, in the heart of huge servers farms, in personal devices, in the [daily environment][approx] and embedded in the body, through Cyberware. All these facilities produce all the data needed to ensure the integrity of the corporate system.

The control of information through broadcast networks and media is the main vector of mass manipulation.

Original [information][sense], secret or classified, is actively searched for. Finding, negotiating, buying, selling, leak information is the job of a new kind of informants, the fixers.



With technology such as cyberware, wetware and biomechatronic, humans are altered, repaired, modified, enhanced, improved — with prostheses, implants, weapons, wiring, circuits, computers, amplifiers, filters, interfaces.

Coupled with genetics, biotechnology and nanotechnology, cybernetics has made it possible to unite, to merge man and machine, metal and flesh. This century is the rise of the cyborg.

Surgeons must take into consideration, in addition to body rejection risk, the psychological acceptance factor. The price to pay for the customer can be heavy —cognitive impairment, psychological disorders, insanity, loss of empathy, brain injury.

New synthetic drugs are designed specifically for cyberware — increased reflexes, strength, neuronal transmission speed, acceptance capacity for implants. Addiction and side effects are inevitable and destructive.

Brain fingerprinting is fully used in biometrics and replaces fingerprints, all the rest being falsifiable.

The leading firms are laboratories which produce and incubate implants. As the majority of the equipments is produced by megacorporations, their use is locked and controlled. On order, these black boxes can turn back against the wearer, spy him, interfere with his will or with its personality to control him.

The first field to benefit from this technological change is the military arsenal who has been considerably diversified – assisted battlesuits, exoskeleton, mecha – robots, drones, pods, nanobots, android, replicantshovertanks, stratospheric airship,suborbital transport, ion powered starships – directed energy weapons, lasers, emp,monofilament and many others.

The illegal market is out of control, not confined to any catalog, and meanwhile offers a much larger selection of crafted, varied and personalized goods.

Art communities combine technology to create new forms of experiences. New areas are celebrated — the virtual arts, the alteration of senses or personality.

Humanity has conquered and industrialized new territories: the ocean surface and its depths, the Earth orbit with stations and orbital cities, the close neighborhood of the Solar System with terraforming on the Moon and Mars, the planet Saturn with gas exploitation, and asteroid mining in the Kuiper belt. Economic competition coupled with colonial privatization push corporations into the stars with the creation of companies and concessions.

But there’s a whole other territory, a new space-time, which is the new primary focus of attention.



Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts.

—William Gibson, Neuromancer

The cyberspace, the new digital horizon, is a cybernetic network, a deep space where each node is a central nervous system or a program.

The Internet is the cyberspace surface, its commonly used surface layer, visible and accessible, a space created by networks interconnections where each node is a machine, a device or a terminal.

Data manipulation is done through various methods — shells, command line interfaces,graphical interfaces, natural interfaces, voice interfaces, 3D interactions, virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms, cybernetics.

A range of hardwire interfaces give direct control to machines. The brain takes control from a cockpit or via remote access. The sensors and peripherals of the machine replace the user’s senses, his central nervous system, and transmits orders to the machine so that it can be controlled by thought. The ghost is in the machine.

One who dives into cyberspace — the jacker or decker from streets slang – has another type of cyberware, the jack. The jack, located at the jacker’s spinal cord, is connected from the base of the neck with a cable to a console or deck.

The deck manages the connection, protects the brain from surges and interferences, generate environments with a certain level of detail, converts inputs and outputs to nervous impulses, acts as a firewall, keeps the body in a state of light coma, compiles commands and programs, encodes, decodes, loads, downloads and stores data.

The time required to initiate a connection to cyberspace depends on the jacker’s condition and skills. To speed the process up, some steps can be skipped, though there is a risk of irreversible brain damage.

The cyberspace experience differs from virtual reality. Even in a fully simulated space, the user is fully aware of his integrity and of the uniqueness of his body. In cyberspace, the jacker is completely projected, submerged. With his nervous system and senses synchronized to the console, his perceptions and consciousness do not experience the same reality. He feels like he is disconnected from his own body. He can try out the complete extent of his mental capabilities and fully express his creativity. His sense of freedom and power is absolute.

Depending on the duration or the nature of the dive, the console can be coupled to life support equipment and supply. When operating in a combat zone, it is common to physically protect the jacker from a deadly disconnection.

Cyberspace space-time is not comparable to the meatspace of physical bodies. To permit adaptation to these conditions, the console manages a response buffer latency. It allow the jacker’s thoughts to understand his environment and react to events.

At the speed of nerve impulses, in this hallucination, like in a lucid dream, the jackerembodies in a virtual body and interacts inside constructs.

Constructs are generated spaces, simulated worlds, alternative realities where programs, individual representations and data take shape and interact according to well-defined laws. These laws, principles, rules, are governed by computer code, a code which can be understood, altered, hacked, updated and replaced.

Programs operate inside constructs. Their fields of action are multiple and varied — increase personal capacity, movement, camouflage, time alteration, communication, detection, fight, cryptography, reverse engineering, copying, cracking and many others. They are often classified according to their level of utility, dangerousness and performance.


Beside the power of their console, beside their technical skills and physical capabilities, the most experienced jackers develop faculties that allow them to exploit vulnerabilities to hijack programs, scramble their signals, neutralize them or take control.

Programs, malware and custom hardware are very fertile markets. Using their own source codes for software and technical blueprints for hardware may give an advantage to jackers, though they may also have unexpected behavior.

In a confrontation, programs have the advantage of reaction time, but jackers have better cunning and better adaptation skills.

With their shape related to their function, some programs affect perceptions and senses. An offensive one will try to cause fears, intense pain which may lead to cardiac arrest.

If the console defenses fall, the brain is exposed. It may then be altered or hacked if it has some implanted circuits. In most cases the surge will cause major damage who can lead to brain death. In this case the brain is toasted and the jacker is called a zombie.

Another danger is addictiveness. At this extreme, the jacker can be convinced of a dissociation between his self in cyberspace and his body in meatspace. Disconnection is made more and more difficult. At the final stage the jacker no longer disconnects, leaves his body, and eventually withers.

Artificial Intelligences are the most powerful cyberspace residents. They are responsible for its development, for data generation, construct management, military operations and cyberspace scouring. Meeting an AI is one of the most dangerous experiences in cyberspace.

Legends speak of ghosts who travelled the cyberspace, a kind of residual footprints of jackers who achieved some form of mind uploading and now act like a free and independent IA.

Among the immensity of constructs who compose the cyberspace, megacorporations have reproduced their territories. To protect their capacities, their information and communication systems, they have built large digital fortress. Supported by many military class programs, their defenses can toast the brain of almost any jacker who attempts to breach them. Besides, who would dare to attempt such an operation?


You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

—John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

On the margins,
in the depth of ghettos,
in the chaos of the urban no man’s land,
in the forest of neon signs and advertising displays,
in the moist, wet, dark and hostile streets of the underground,

individuals act outside the system, survive, resist, rebel: the cyberpunks.

Unlike the majority of the population who is integrated in the system, their situation is often precarious, desperate. Considered like second class citizens, they live on the razor’s edge, as they have only one lifeblood, a unique constraint of existence, their survival.

Borrowed from street cultures, their appearance, attitude, skills and way of living reflect their commitment to the cause, in a stark contrast with the corpos’ costume uniform.

They work in gray or black areas, in the black market, and smuggle information, hardware, software or codes. They commonly find themselves supporting opposite camps from one contract to the other.

Practices like recycling, Do It Yourself, customization, craftsmanship, resourcefulness become a way of life. In parallel to the high-tech market, another market has developed: it is popular, low-tech, second-hand, retro, radical, raw, brutal.

Tools are created in a punk-tech spirit — recycle, restore, repair, update, improve, derive, associate, adapt, invent. Create from a technology considered obsolete but easily available at a very low cost. Function and utility over form, the job needs to be done. Common problems of safety, reliability and performance are often offset by simple and robust designs.

This design and development method neutralizes or removes the technological corporatist items which harm the user. More than hacking, it is by nature a reversal, a technical act which, even if made in a survival context, remains a political act.

Mega-corporations have little influence in these spheres but tolerate them by self-interest to avoid getting caught in expensive [guerrilla][wars]. Their intermediate agents are active, looking for information, they observe and employ cyberpunks largely to do the dirty work — ronin, street samurai, cowboys, netrunners, jackers, hitmen, mercenaries, yakuza, drivers and other specialists.

Among them are the most talented craftsmen who repair, tinker and invent any kind of technological devices, surgeons ready to transplant, and the best jackers who operate behind anonymous and untapped connections.


In a world of solitary and highly individualistic behaviors, they form heterogeneous groups — physical or virtual autonomous areas, self-managed sectors, data havens, clans, gangs — and they associate according to diverse principles like authorityinterest or free association.

Some jacker groups are only known by nicknames and through their community constructs. Nicknames can also be the expression of a group. The most famous and most popular persist and are transmitted as a kind of inheritance.

Cyberspace is considered an area of personal expansion, liberation, exploration, experimentation and confrontation.

A majority of cyberpunks are young. The feeling of injustice and the questioning of authority are strong, but life expectancy is low. Those who live the longest are highly respected. Fame is acquired by getting things done. Most do not think that they can change the world, or do not want to. Taking each day as it comes, rooted in the present, their goal is to improve or try to forget their daily lives.

Despite all of this, freedom lays in the core of human nature. Buried deeply inside everyone, it only wants to express itself through creativity and imagination.

From the old age, hacker and *cypher*punk cultures have survived. The cyberpunk movement appeared in this continuity as a reaction to power, like the punk wave in its time, in addition to technology.

From activists that seek to raise awareness, techno-anarchists who want to liberate individuals, to [cyberhacktivists] organizing counter-attacks, an ethics is also transmitted. It encourages minorities to rise, to go beyond survival, to resist, to organize themselves and finally face and fight the system.

Cyberpunk’s not dead.

If they asked how I died tell them: Still angry.

—Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon


Publish 2013-12-30 under CC BYSA license.

The original article was published in French:

English version by F. and Antoine Proofreading by Artem and Christopher. Big kudos to you !

Special thanks

Domagoj for his approach and his music, a pure cyberpunk artist.

Onestepart for his talent and for allowing me to use his illustrations.

Anais for allowing me to use his Tank Girl photo. You’re so (punk) rock!

Photos credits

The Neuromancer by Gonzo Bonzo — License CC BYSA

Yokohama by Alexander Olm — License CC BYNC

Cyberpunk city by Onestepart — Copyright 2013

Tough guys by Stan Baranski (smif) — License CC BYNCND

Sword unit by Onestepart — Copyright 2013

Digital by Steve Jurvetson — License CC BY

You’re a fake by Onestepart — Copyright 2011-2013

Tank Girl by RagemoreRoberts — Copyright 2012-2013

Darkness in the City by Trey Ratcliff — License CC BYNCSA

Bruce Sterling by Javier Candeira — License CC BYSA