Snow Crash “Earth” app

Reading Snow Crash (1992) and keep being surprised at how spot-on Neal Stephenson is sometimes. Like this description of the protagonist looking at not-Google-Earth in the Snow Crash metaverse:

If he were in some normal, stable part of the world like lower Manhattan, this would actually work in 3-D. Instead, he’s got to put up with two-dimensional satellite imagery.

Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash (1992)

Sounds very familiar...

I remember seeing a tech demo of something looking like Google Earth when I was a kid, and it completely blew my mind. I haven’t seen it since, but remember it as showing the Earth in space, then the camera zooms in all the way to a three-dimensional view of a Florida beach. Impossible!

It’d be a stretch to say that the Google engineers must have been inspired by Snow Crash when developing Earth, but I wonder: how much of our current technology has been directly inspired by sci-fi? Like, nerds reading awesome novels and going: “By the power of Greyskull, I’m gonna make that happen for real.”

Update: The tech demo must have been Intrinsic Graphics’ prototype from the late 1990s which would later become EarthViewer by Keyhole Inc, and even later: Google Earth. One of the developers, Avi Bar-Zeev, talked about 3D-globes in an interview with Cartographica (PDF) in 2008, and they do mention Snow Crash and other sci-fi:

Some people have mistakenly said that the Metaverse itself was the inspiration, but it wasn’t for any of us as far as I know. John [Hanke] has publicly stated that the panoptic 3D “Earth” application from Snow Crash was the actual inspiration for him. Mark Aubin has said that the Powers of Ten movie and flipbook were an inspiration to him. I’d honestly been toying with the idea of 3D globes before I read Snow Crash around 1994. So I think this is more a case of multiple people converging at the right place and the right time with similar ideas.