Apple announced that it’s bringing a new show to Apple TV+ based on William Gibson’s award-winning cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (1984), offering another big moment for VR to take the limelight.

According to Apple, the upcoming 10-episode drama series is slated to follow the novel’s narrative of “a damaged, top-rung super-hacker named Case who is thrust into a web of digital espionage and high stakes crime with his partner Molly, a razor-girl assassin with mirrored eyes aiming to pull a heist on a corporate dynasty with untold secrets.”

If you haven’t read Gibson’s novel, which coined the term ‘cyberspace’, you may be surprised to learn that a lot of the action is based in the VR space called the “matrix,” which is accessed not through a VR headset, but a brain-machine interface (BMI) imbedded in the user’s central nervous system. Sound pretty familiar?

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Translating that to TV won’t be as straightforward as it might seem though. Gibson’s version of cyberspace looks pretty different to the social VR platforms of today, or even the sort of monolithic virtual realities seen in The Matrix trilogy, or more recently, Ready Player One, the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline which Steven Spielberg brought to film in 2018.

As Gibson describes it, his matrix is more of an abstract space that is both physically immersive, but also provides the user with direct access to data that’s decidedly way more conceptual in nature:

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

Brazilian Print of Neuromancer | Image courtesy Josan Gonzalez, captured by ‘bethdurigan’

It can’t all be “bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void” though. Committing that complex virtual reality to television will probably mean it will need to be more visual and less abstract—more like the virtual reality people know already and understand. It’s impossible to say for now, but the TV show could more heavily leverage the sort of virtualized real-world locations seen in the book, such as VR version of London and ‘Night City’, a fictionalized version of Chiba, Japan.

And what does this mean to Joe Blow, Apple TV+ subscriber? While a fresh take on Neuromancer probably won’t directly translate to headset sales, good science fiction always has a way of inspiring new generations to get into technology. To boot, many of the XR pioneers of today point to Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992), which coined the term ‘metaverse’, as foundational starting points.

It’s not certain when we’ll be able to watch the Neuromancer TV show—probably in a VR headset, knowing us—although if you’re looking for a little something to read while you twiddle your thumbs (besides the book!), check out the first time Gibson tried on a VR headset and exclaimed “they did it!”

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • ViRGiN

    Nah, this is for “nobody” compared to suitable for general audience Ready Player One.
    And it’s coming from Apple, so at best it’s just floating apps.

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    Gibson’s cyberspace is an abstract data view, with the most complex structures represented by the most simple geometric shapes, very different from what we consider VR today. It’s much more Rez Infinite than Horizon Worlds. And in Neuromancer the cowboys/hackers despise the recorded “virtual reality” called SimStim, allowing the user to experience a realistic, non-abstract representation of the world, as an unworthy “meat toy”.

    Ernest Cline’s Oasis from Ready Player One is much closer to what is considered VR today, and users even wear HMDs similar to AVP, which would make for a great product placement opportunity, while Gibson’s cyberspace from the sprawl trilogy is more like the internet, as in the network connecting everything in the background, not the web as an end user interface, and all about brain implants.

    • LP

      What about the meta universe concept from “Snow Crush” by Neal Stephenson?
      Either way, the representation of dystopian 80s cyberpunk is very different from today’s digital age of overconsumption and information clogging.

      • Nepenthe

        My favorite version of the VR / metaverse future is from Tad Williams’ Otherland series, particularly as depicted in book one.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        Dystopian cyberpunk was a “what if” projection of 80s “greed is good” reaganomics, painting a scenario where commercialization of everything made large companies more powerful than nations, barely distinguishable from organized crime, driving people to completely depend on their services.

        I don’t think this will ever happen, but it’s not hard to draw parallels to Facebook/Tiktoc algorithms driving doomscrolling people to engage longer on their platform by throwing the most controversial topics at them, and selling their data for even more effective ads. Global companies now worth trillions with annual revenues in the hundreds of billions regularly try to evade regulation, because they can afford to pay hundreds of millions in penalties.

        Apple was ordered by the EU to open their monopolistic App store with its 30% fee, and reacted with a ludicrous 27% fee for apps using other payment systems, and dropping progressive web apps from EU iPhones with made up security concerns. We’ll (probably) be spared a dystopian future, because EU law now allows imposing up to 20% of the global yearly income for non-compliance, which not even Apple can afford.

    • david vincent

      “Ernest Cline’s Oasis from Ready Player One is much closer to what is considered VR today”
      Oasis is the dumbest and most unrealistic of all metaverses, being free to play but also totally pay to win. If you’re dirty poor, there’s not much you can do in this place. Having to pay real money just to change location or do other basic stuff is dumb, VR is all about breaking the constraints of the physical world, Cline didn’t even understood that.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        All these SF stories are dystopian, so “dumb” is kind of the idea, with total commercialization making payment for even basic services an unavoidable barrier. And we got lucky with the free nature of the web. Before that there were closed online services like AOL and CompuServe, charging users for all kinds of communication and viewing info pages on top of a monthly subscription. And they really tried to stop their users from switching to the WWW where all these things were available for free.

  • They will translate the cyberspace into “spatial computing”

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    I regularly misread “metawhatsit” as “metawhatshit”. Wondering if my brain will now turn “spatial computing” into “surreal computething”.

  • NicoleJsd

    Ngl that sounds a little desperate