1960s science fiction writers predict 2014 (pretty accurately)


Good science fiction starts with at least a basic understanding of science on the part of the writer. It may be fantastical in parts, but it has to be grounded enough in reality to at least be plausible. This is what separates sci-fi (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, 2001) from fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Wars). So, it is not surprising that many of the fictions of good science fiction writers become reality years later.

People have frequently remarked on how many of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek technologies have come to pass. Rodenberry was certainly not alone though. In 1964 Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey among many others, essentially predicted the rise of the internet and mobile technology.
"We could be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be, where we can contact our friends anywhere on earth, even if we don’t know their actual physical location. It will be possible in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now, for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London…. Almost any executive skill, any administrative skill, even any physical skill, could be made independent of distance. I am perfectly serious when I suggest that one day we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand."

Isaac Asimov also made a number of predictions in 1964. Some of Asimov's predictions were remarkably accurate:
“Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.” [and] “[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.”

Many of them though represent things that are not true yet but represent the cutting edge of what's next:
“Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare ‘automeals,’ heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be ‘ordered’ the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning.”

The most interesting to me though is this:
“[M]en will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.”

It is not so much the glowing ceilings and walls that I find interesting but rather the "...to create an environment that will suit them better".

It appears increasingly likely that we will solve our many environmental and even health problems, not by returning to nature or leading a 'more natural lifestyle' but by recreating a nature that fits better with our modern lifestyle. This includes things like greenbeltsrooftop gardens and sustainable energy. It also includes things like using genetic modification to create highly specialized plants and animals, designed to thrive in the current environment and better meet human needs. It involves preserving species and even bringing back some extinct ones using DNA and cloning. It may very will involve using 'geoengineering' to reduce the impact of climate change, 3D printing to reduce the carbon footprint of products (by reducing the need to ship and mass produce products), it may even involve moving part of our population to other planets and using cybernetics to reduce human impact by changing human needs.

Plainly, science fiction writers with a background in science and technology are better at predicting the future than most. The combination of imagination and an understanding of science and technology is not only good at predicting the future but may, in many ways, help to shape it. An idea presented on Star Trek may well be the inspiration that drives a generation of scientists to try to create the technology. It would be interesting to see what today's science fiction writers would say if asked to predict the world of 2064, but in 2014 smart companies actually employ people to make such predictions. I wonder if Roddenberry, Clarke or Asimov ever thought 'futurist' would be an actual job?
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