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The current issue of the New Yorker includes a long article about Stanislaw Lem, about new biographies of Lem focusing on the extent to which Lem's Jewish identity and experience of the Holocaust and wartime Poland, which he seldom wrote about, informed his science fiction.

Anyway, at the beginning of the article the author writes

When [Lem] toured the Soviet Union in the nineteen-sixties, he was greeted by cosmonauts and astrophysicists, and addressed standing-room-only crowds. A self-described futurologist, he foresaw maps that could plot a route at a touch, immersive artificial realities, and instant, universal access to knowledge via “an enormous invisible web that encircles the world.

I would like to know in which Lem works did he predict virtual reality and the World Wide Web. I feel as though I have read a lot of Lem but don't remember these elements.

1 Answer 1

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From “Dialogi po szesnastu latach”, including the text: Losing Illusions: From Intelectronics to Information Technology

The translated portion is:

“But if as a result of gradual merging of computing machines and memory banks there emerge national, continental, and later even planetary computer network, which is a realistic direction of development, the whole system, constituted by humans and these networks, may take up a dynamic trajectory, quite divergent from the civilizational hopes”

With regards to Virtual Reality, Lem wrote about "phantomatics".

Additionally, this article has a list:

https://culture.pl/en/article/13-things-lem-predicted-about-the-future-we-live-in

The Internet

In the early 1950s, Lem was already reflecting on the possibility of connecting powerful computers in order to enhance their computing capacity. In his Dialogues from 1957, he considered it a realistic direction of development that the gradual accumulation of ‘informatic machines’ and ‘banks of memories’ would lead to establishing ‘state, continental and, later, planetary computer nets’.

Lem, who died in 2006, lived to see many of his predictions come true, including the Internet. And it surprised him. His famous, though apocryphal reaction to his first encounter with the new medium was said to be:

Until I used the Internet, I didn’t know there were so many idiots in the world.

Virtual reality

With virtual reality technologies and devices lurking in every corner and every commercial, VR may seem like the next hot thing. But Stanisław Lem wrote convincingly about VR (his own term was ‘phantomatics’) back in 1964, long before many Western futurists associated with the term conceived of the idea. In his Summa Technologiae, Lem describes a machine which he calls a ‘phantomaton’, capable of creating alternative realities which would be indistinguishable from the ‘original’ reality.

Moreover, Lem saw this technology as working on multiple layers, meaning that a person leaving one virtual reality wouldn’t necessarily return to the ‘real’ one. Rather, one could switch between different alternative simulations, without ever being sure if this is the ‘original’ reality, or the real world. This obviously would lead to the blurring of the the line between truth and fiction, and Lem obviously saw this as a potential threat:

An accretion of illusory realities like this can lead to a situation where real life can also be treated as a manufactured illusion.

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