What is Ubik?

Why is this blog called Ubik?

Well in the first place it's named after the Philip K. Dick's 1969 novel. This is a book with the characteristic dark humor and the reality twisting for which PKD is known (he wrote the original stories for Total Recall and Bladerunner, as well as the forthcoming Scanner Darkly, with Keanu Reeves.). The book is about a company specializing in people with "psionic" skills who can nullify other psis, such as telepaths and precogs (think Minority Report, yes, another PKD story).

This "prudence" organization as it's called (they provide privacy in a future world where other people can read your mind) is lead by Gene Runciter. All the psi talent has been "dropping off the map" as we learn at the start of the book. Runciter is awakened at 3:30AM and is not pleased:

Runciter said, "I'll consult my dead wife."
"It's the middle of the night. The moratoriums are closed now."
"Not in Switzerland," Runciter said, with a grimacing smile.
Runciter's wife is kept in cold-pac, a half-life or cryogenic storage. So they all go off to Mars where they're promptly blown up by a bomb. What happens after that is not all that it seems...Runciter is apparently the only one killed and they rush him off to cold-pac. But then reality around them starts regressing back to 1939 and cans of Ubik spray, which may or may not restore reality, are needed to survive. Ubik may or may not be salvation, reality, truth or life.

"Ubik" means ubiquitous, or everywhere. Today we speak of "ubicomp" or ubiquitous computing (a term PKD might have invented). A logical extension is "ubimap," mapping and geospatial information spatially on demand.

Finally, Ubik (the novel) undermines any clear sense of reality vs. not-reality. Already we speak of "augmented reality" or information that has been spatially tagged that appears to us on devices as we navigate around. This is a serious research effort (Ambient Findability has some examples).

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