R2’s Day: Prognostication and SF

Republibot 2.0

Yes. I’m putting off the Doctor Who Christmas Special one more week. Maybe two. It will still be there when we get to it. It’s not going anywhere.
Actually, that may sum up my thoughts on it…

ANYway. Frequently, we authors of speculative fiction are frequently called upon to predict the future, even though that’s not what we’re about. I mean, I understand that you may mistake ‘speculative’ for ‘speculate’ (or ‘spectacle’ or even ‘speculum’) We are incorrectly identified as ‘Visionary’, even when (or especially when) our vision consists of projecting a single aspect of modern life to the point of absurdity.

A single aspect taken to absurdity.

Yet, somehow, S-F authors are expected to have some line on the future. I just read a bit by Isaac Asimov where he predicts life in 2014. http://www.openculture.com/2014/01/isaac-asimov-predicts-what-the-world-...

(Arthur C. Clarke did one too, it’s linked in that article. I don’t feel like blowing the electrons on it.)

In any case, Isaac collected a paycheck for some pretty pointless woolgathering. He got some right, surprisingly so given his predilections.

• ““Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”
• “[M]ankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014.”
• “Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.”

I kind of want to focus a bit on that first one—Asimov was known for his robot stories, but he predicted that robots wouldn’t be that big a deal… at least not in the far off world of 2014. This was pretty much an admission that his claim to fame didn’t even figure in long range predictions….

In other words… why are you asking an S-F writer to predict the future?

Oh yeah. That whole paycheck thing.

So, what are your predictions for 2014? I predict that we still won’t have that flying car or jetpack in every garage….



Seems to me....

Kevin Long's picture

Seems to me the stuff they got wrong is more telling than the stuff they got right.


  • “The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes.”
  • “[H]ighways … in the more advanced sections of the world will have passed their peak in 2014; there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface. There will be aircraft, of course, but even ground travel will increasingly take to the air a foot or two off the ground.”
  • “[V]ehicles with ‘Robot-brains’ … can be set for particular destinations … that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”[/QUOTE]

His predictions about population are interestingly off the mark, too. When I was in college, the UN prediction for 2050 was 12 billion people. It's been revised down every decade, and now it's set at 9 billion, which, the UN thinks is sustainable. Basically as the standard of living increases population growth decreases. It's counter-intuitive, but there's plenty of examples (Compare the Southern birth rate in 1750 to 1850 to 1950), but he completely missed this.


Kevin Long


Oh, We're The Boys Of DARPA...

Republibot 4.0's picture

Well, some of those predictions might have come true, had the economy not tanked.  It takes a hell of a lot of money to develop stuff like maglev and hovercraft, and then a hell of a lot more money to convert existing roadways to accommodate them.  The investors have pulled in their horns like a slug that had salt poured on it after  9-11 and then the financial meltdown. 

You also have to try to work to overcome the public objections to forward-looking tech.  While a lot of people talk about wanting their flying car, very few people would support a tax increase to pay for a dedicated lane for landings and take-offs, or to have to get another license to fly the darned things.  And who would employ all the air traffic controllers that would be needed if three out of every five people had a flying car?  The FAA is closing down smaller airports all the time, forcing air travellers into fewer and fewer (and increasingly busy) hubs.

A great number of SF "flights of fancy" have served to inspire people to try to create those items, to realize those dreams, and now we take it for granted that there are cel phones with more capacity than the computer that guided the Apollo missions.

When you're right, nobody remembers.  When you're wrong, nobody forgets.