Thirty years ago, the science fiction writer Neal Stephenson invented the concept of the metaverse. Now, he is intent on building it in real life. We must hope his constructive feats are more uplifting than his imaginary fears — the metaverse he depicted in 1992’s Snow Crash was an escape hatch into an alternative virtual world from the hellscape of 21st-century Los Angeles. The novel’s main character, Hiro Protagonist, lived in a shipping container, worked as a pizza delivery driver and tried to survive in a brutal anarcho-capitalist world disfigured by menacing monopolists, economic collapse and environmental degradation. Yet in a video call from his home in Seattle, in which he spells out his current thinking on the metaverse, Stephenson expounds a much cheerier theory about the future uses of technology. “Snow Crash is both a dystopian novel and a parody of dystopian novels,” he says. “And I am increasingly of the view that technologies, with a few notable exceptions, aren’t really dystopian or utopian; people are.”


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