Saturday, June 20, 2009

Time travel and robots

Two of the dominant themes of science fiction are no closer than when they were first envisioned years and years ago. As it turns out reading old science fiction is usually mildly amusing because of the "modern" perspective. There are certain things that the science fiction writers consistently get wrong.

Think of the movie and the book, "2001," now think about the difference between the space station in the movie and the real space station up there today in 2009. Most, nearly all, science fiction writers over predict changes in the society. One good example is Robert Heinlein's The Door into Summer.

Heinlein, Robert A. The Door into Summer. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957.

The book starts in year 1970, a comfortable 13 years in the future from when the book was written, but not long enough to have a nuclear war and to develop household robots. Those two developments are still missing. The hero of the book sleeps thirty more years into the future, to the year 2000, now almost a decade ago, but we still lack nearly all of the things Heinlein supposed we would have, like automatic doors in hospital rooms and a substitute for the doctor's stethoscope. Heinlein also assumed that the language and clothing styles would change dramatically, they haven't. But there have been other changes, like no safety pins for diapers and no slide rules. I have yet to read an old science fiction writer that foresaw personal computers like the iPhone.

Even when the writers leave out the dates and make some general predictions, usually they are way off from reality, we don't have star gates, we don't have commercial space travel (not really), we don't have personal airplanes or helicopters, no food automatically created. In fact, we still drive gas powered cars and still shop in stores (some of the time).

Some of the things we do have are more amazing than any of the stories; back to iPhones, GPS, personal computers, the Internet, and on and on. Even post it notes are pretty neat considering.

The point of all this is that predicting the future, even if you are in the business of doing so, is really hard and not very accurate.

1 comment:

  1. That's why a lot of science fiction writers have turned wimpy now (so I hear). They are afraid of making all these predictions about technology and being way off. They also can't really imagine some of the real innovations we'll see (like the change/growth of personal computers in even my lifetime).