Sunday, June 04, 2006

I see you: What if you could see anywhere, past, present or future?

I remember a short story called "I See You" by Damon Knight that I read in 1982, but the story is from 1976. ( I read it in a excellent collection of short stories called TV:2000 edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles Waugh and Martin Greenberg.) In it an inventor produces a device that can watch anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Knight's story examines the disruptive affect such a device will have on society, from the elimination of government secrets, to the elimination of privacy and all social taboos surrounding it. The inventor, in anticipation of the effect of his invention, makes himself as anonymous as possible before he even introduces his viewer to the world.

Does anyone see the similarity of that short story with the novel from 2000 by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter call "The Light of Other Days"? In that book, the authors posit a WormCam which allows anyone to observe anything through tiny wormholes. Just as in the Damon Knight short story, this ability has a radical affect on society. Since it is in novel form, Baxter and Clark can expand this idea further than in a short story. They explore many implications of information transfer instantaneously from any location through the wormholes, even to the point of using the technology to link minds. What are people interested in watching with their Wormcams in the book? Celebrities and Government officials and just about anybody as in the short story above. Jesus crucifixion and resurrection are so crowded with observers that people still don't know the truth about him. The novel contains many interesting vignettes about the effect of the Wormcams.

Similarly the scientists in Orson Scott Card's "Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus" find a way to view the past but they use it not just for study, but potentially for alteration of the biggest mistake of history. Card also takes the opportunity in his novel to reflect on what could be learned if we had the objective window into the past. Some of these explorations are the most interesting parts of the novel. Things like, the origin of the Flood myth, the nature of Jesus, and of course Christopher Columbus' discovery of the new world.

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