Let's take a breath and look longer term. I am inspired after we watched the (mostly) very good "Bladerunner 2049" flick, last night. More on that, below.
== Probing the territory in front of us ==
How does Science Fiction do at prediction? From Star Trek to 2001 and The Matrix, this article from The Guardian takes a look at how well -- or poorly -- science fiction films predicted and portrayed the next generation of computers, robots and technological innovation.
Like E. E. Hale's The Brick Moon, published in 1866 which foretold navigation and communication satellites as well as humans living in orbit, or Bernal’s “The World, The Flesh and the Devil” in the 1920s scanning ahead at rotating cylinder space colonies, or Aldous Huxley’s genetic augmentation of humans, or H.G. Wells predicting nuclear weapons and war. American short story writer Edward Page Mitchell in the 1880s foresaw instant news transmission, pneumatic tube transport and equal rights for women, along with a steady decline of racism, till a Chinese-American is a major presidential candidate in the 1960s.
San Francisco author Robert Duncan Milne had a run of fantastic tales from 1877-1899 about radio communications, image-based surveillance, photographic forensics, and surviving solar flares. (More Brin news about Milne, in the course of time, I promise.)
Krauss kindly credits me with predicting some aspects of the World Wide Web, in my 1989 novel EARTH, along with William Gibson’s cyberpunk versions of the Internet, earlier. But he stops there, claiming that SF missed the super-linked world, for the most part. And, for the most part, he’s right! Still, other exceptions stand out. Take Frederik Pohl's The Age of the Pussyfoot, which in 1967 or so portrayed not only a vast world-array of linked computers, but citizens carrying personal assistants in their pockets (“Joymakers”) that advised, got information, took pictures and – oh yes – made calls. John Brunner’s 1960s novels Stand on Zanzibar and The Shockwave Rider anticipated not just the internet but computer worms and viruses, as did Gregory Benford’s even-earlier story "The Scarred Man." Even before that, Murray Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” had fun with what could go wrong, if we all got semi-intelligent personal AI helpers. While we are on brilliant prescience, have another look at a Fred Pohl book that I have touted for 20 years, urging members of our intelligence, law and military communities to read, and be scared! Pohl’s The Cool War is mentioned in this article that openly adopts his terminology for a struggle between powers that has warmed up to a desperately dangerous kind of bitter peace. In that novel, nations wage a cryptic campaign of tit-for-tat sabotage, undermining each others’ infrastructure, banking systems and power, a ‘war’ that is never declared and never goes nuclear, but leaves us all spiraling ever downward into failure and poverty. Cool War... The term has been updated and promulgated by David Rothkopf, editor at large at Foreign Affairs and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and I am glad it is getting wider play, since a Cool War is clearly what we’re in. (A little credit then, for my having pushed Pohl’s book -especially to the Protector Caste- for two decades? ;-)
The new anti-democratic axis that has been forged by Vladimir Putin -- now stretching from Ankara all the way to Manila and supported by another rising power – discusses openly its motive and intent to bring down the “decadent west” with its “fictitious” notions of freedom of citizen-rule. The sabotage of our political processes has come far and probing feints have measured vulnerabilities in every area that Fred predicted, from the power grid to transport.
And did you really think that North Korea’s nukes have no part in the overall plan? They allow for a possible EMP strike on North America aimed at knocking us down a bunch, while the larger powers retain “It wasn’t us!” plausible deniability. Read that again. And again while actually thinking about who really controls things, in North Korea.)
I’ve railed about this in both fiction and nonfiction (e.g. The Transparent Society) as well as many talks and consultations.
Though it can be important to grasp the justifications of the other side! Let’s remember that Putin feels vexed that Obama and Hillary Clinton oversaw (he claims instigated) the revolution that removed the Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, sending that people racing toward union with the West. Putin did not want the masterminds of this setback to remain in power, and he brought out every gun to ensure they’d be replaced by his own favored man.
Yes, we live in a world that seems almost written as a science fiction tale! Who on Earth would have imagined that Americans might be prodded and propagandized into turning away from our genius at pragmatic negotiation? That we’d let ourselves be talked into abandoning the high art of politics? That a third of our citizens could be distracted into waging all-out war on … science? On every single profession of fact-users who know stuff? And now the “deep state” officers of the FBI and intel agencies and military? No, no. Let this be a cheap novel.
== The future is better than the past ==
Few of my postings have elicited as much fervent argument – and even hate-mail – as my recent blog about Robert A. Heinlein, an author log categorized as a right-winger by oversimplifying fools. That post reprinted directly from Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100, in which he expressed desperate worry about a merging of the American right with racism and the nastier tendencies in fundamentalism.
Yes, RAH was definitely a “libertarian” in the older sense that hearkens to Adam Smith and self-reliant individualism, though I doubt he’d find much in common with the version that has hijacked that movement, nowadays. On the other hand, he was vigorously pro-science and intellect and diversity/tolerance, and… well, read his own words, and see how chillingly close they came to predicting our awful, pre-theocracy politics, today.
Here’s another passage, this time from the penultimate page of his finest time travel novel, The Door Into Summer: "…the future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering. “Most of these long-haired belittlers can't drive a nail nor use a slide rule, I'd like to invite them into Dr. Twitchell's cage and ship them back to the twelfth century--then let them enjoy it.” Yeah, sure. There are lefty flakes who qualify as “romantics” and “long hairs!” But look around at who is screaming hatred of science and every other fact profession. (Name one exception.) Look at the revival of fascism and confederatism, two of the most romanticmovements ever seen. And… aw, heck. Let me paste back in here the pivotal paragraphs of Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100: “Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not – but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck.
"Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."
Oh, yes. Science fiction authors can be off target. But there can also be prescient.