Predicting is hard. Especially the future
July 24, 2012 12:44 AM   Subscribe

What Isaac Asimov thought 2012 would be like: "Assuming we haven't destroyed ourselves in a nuclear war, there will be 8-10 billion of us on this planet—and widespread hunger. These troubles can be traced back to President Ronald Reagan who smiled and waved too much."

Back in 1987, the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest asked science fiction writers what the world would look like 25 years in the future. They were then put in a timecapsule, sealed in a bank vault and reopened earlier this year. Some common threads are the population boom, the idea that there would "probably not" be a nuclear war and most Americans would be "barely literate". Writers include Gregory Benford, Orson Scott Card, Jack Williamson, Frederik Pohl and Gene Wolfe. No female writers were asked.
posted by MartinWisse (138 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like Pohl's one. Reminds me of the hopelessly optimistic scifi of my youth.

Well, until he gets all realist about things.
posted by pompomtom at 12:59 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Most Americans are barely literate, think in images rather than symbols..."

[picard_facepalm.jpg]
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:03 AM on July 24, 2012 [90 favorites]


Those guys were really worked up about the Cold War and AIDS. Not so much about computers or the internet. A lot of assumptions about the biotech revolution that we're still 25 years away from.


And I've never read Dave Wolverton and now never will, but time capsules aren't the best place to get in some axe-grinding about your ex-wife.
posted by thecjm at 1:04 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Benford's not too far off the mark. Were I in SoCal, I would take him up on this: "I will be old, but not dead. Come by to see me, and bring a bottle."
posted by gingerest at 1:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


What always strikes me about a lot of these is that the advances are predicted to come in space travel, and the predictions are hugely over-optimistic, while predictions of advances in computing are the opposite.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Zelany started his prediction with debit cards, ended with ebooks, and got everything in between totally wrong. Still, a good batting average in this crowd.
posted by thecjm at 1:09 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


It would have been really cool if L. Ron Hubbard's predictors said that in 2012 Katie Holmes would break up with Tom Cruise and take away their little daughter Suri because of fucking Scientology and that most of us would be forced to care about that, every time we glanced at the magazines in the checkout lane at the supermarket.

Even Isaac Asimov didn't see that one coming.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [23 favorites]


Oddly, no mention of unisex jumpsuits...
posted by sexyrobot at 1:16 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Predicting is hard. Especially the future.

Indeed. Many of them gloomily predict "if there are any survivors to the nuclear war" which never was close to happening in 1987 and totally missed the impending collapse of the Soviet empire which lay only two years in front of them.
posted by three blind mice at 1:20 AM on July 24, 2012


Oh, there were several science fiction writers who missed the breakup of the USSR after it had happened too. (Norman Spinrad for one.)
posted by MartinWisse at 1:25 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


thecjm - if you never read anything by Dave Wolverton, you'll miss out on one of the best sci-fi books written - Wolverton's On My Way To Paradise (finally available as an ebook, I might add)
posted by Auden at 1:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]




What will life be like in the year 2012? There will have been no nuclear war, and the threat of such a war will have been removed by the mutual nuclear disarmament of the major powers. SDI, Reagan's ill advised Star Wars program will have come to nothing.

Japan will be the central economic power in the world, owning or controlling a significant part of European and American industries. This "economic dictatorship" will be beneficial to Japan's client states, since Japan benefits by keeping its customers healthy and wealthy. Indeed, a peaceful and prosperous world community will owe its existence to this Pax Japanica.
4 years later...
posted by delmoi at 1:36 AM on July 24, 2012


Benford and Feinberg are actually, in my opinion, pretty close to the mark (in Feinberg's case because it is the ability to build ever smaller circuits which has driven advances in computing).
posted by Skeptic at 1:40 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


okay, so jump forward twenty-five years. It's 2037. Will people still give a shit about Star Wars? Will assault rifles still be legal in the good ole US of A? Will Can still be mostly unknown?

One thing I'm sure of. We still won't know who killed JFK.
posted by philip-random at 1:44 AM on July 24, 2012


The least pessimistic was the most accurate:
It is good to see that a cashless, checkless society has just about come to pass, that automation has transformed offices and robotics manufacturing in mainly beneficial ways, including telecommuting, that defense spending has finally slowed for a few of the right reasons, that population growth has also slowed and that biotechnology has transformed medicine, agriculture and industry—all of this resulting in an older, slightly conservative, but longer-lived and healthier society possessed of more leisure and a wider range of educational and recreational options in which to enjoy it—and it is very good at last to see this much industry located off-planet, this many permanent space residents and increased exploration of the solar system. I would also like to take this opportunity to plug my new book, to be published in both computerized and printed versions in time for 2012 Christmas sales—but I've not yet decided on its proper title. Grandchildren of Amber sounds at this point a little clumsy, but may have to serve.
Except for the part about the new book, given that he died in '95
posted by delmoi at 1:46 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]




JACK WILLIAMSON

GREETINGS TO 2012:

If we had a time-phone, now in 1987, we would beg you to forgive us. We have burdened you with impossible debts, wasted and polluted the planet that should have been your rich heritage, left you instead a dreadful legacy of ignorance, want, and war.



That's cool, 1987 Jack, we managed to take that wasted, polluted, indebted place and fuck it up even more. So no worries.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:51 AM on July 24, 2012 [56 favorites]


And I've never read Dave Wolverton and now never will, but time capsules aren't the best place to get in some axe-grinding about your ex-wife.

What better place to get axe-grinding, I wonder?
posted by WaylandSmith at 2:07 AM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


One thing I'm sure of. We still won't know who killed JFK.

I don't usually tell people this, but you all seem like nice folks. so I'm going to share my secret.

I killed JFK.

There wasn't any political motive. I did it purely out of anger. JFK cut me off in traffic once. It took me years to exact my revenge. By then he was president, but that didn't matter to me. That motherfucker cut me off in traffic!

I framed Lee Harvey Oswald for the kill, because Oswald got in front of me at the express lane at the supermarket. The sign clearly states "10 items or less" and he had at least 14 items. I don't forget things like that.

The Warren Commission actually interviewed me about all this, and I explained the whole thing about JFK cutting me off in traffic, and they agreed that those kinds of things are pretty egregious. I haven't heard from them since.

I hope this clears things up.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:19 AM on July 24, 2012 [23 favorites]


By my estimation (trying to tally up number of individual predictions and number correct), Orson Scott Card came out the clear winner. Glashow comes second on the strength of his closing paragraph's litany. Feinberg is the big loser for putting all his predictive eggs in one nanotechnological basket.

Benford, Glashow, Wolfe and Wolverton cluster right around the .500 mark, depending on how you want to interpret, and it's interesting to see exactly which bits they got right and wrong. Lots of worries about AIDS and nukes, lots of optimism about radical progress in medicine and space exploration.

Nobody seems to've seen the Japanese economic collapse coming, or the Soviet everything collapse.
posted by ubernostrum at 2:34 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nobody seems to've seen the Japanese economic collapse coming, or the Soviet everything collapse.

Dystopia wasn't mainstream sci fi back then yet.
posted by infini at 3:04 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Nobody seems to've seen the Japanese economic collapse coming, or the Soviet everything collapse."

Card sort of predicted a Soviet collapse and for the right reasons. His general accuracy is odd, but I have to grudgingly acknowledge it.

Anyway, no one foresaw the Japanese recession or this Great Recession because people didn't think that things like this were really possibly anymore. Japan's counter-example was seen as a fluke. Consensus had become that monetary policy meant, and had been proved, to result in relative stability (periodic recession, yes, but anything like a depression was impossible). So Card and others, even now, only imagine a worldwide economic crisis that is the product of some underlying major disaster — overpopulation, famine, oil shortages, huge natural disasters, whatever. Even now no one is willing to believe that the entire world could suffer a depression as the result of a (completely avoidable) financial shock at the end of a (avoidable) bubble.

You know, like all the past depressions and major recessions have been.

Anyway, Japan then is analogous to China today.

People then were certain that Japan would be the dominant power because they believed they'd witnessed Japan's rise as a function of the US's fall (which wasn't the case, but most people believed it was) and they couldn't imagine an EU. Leaving Japan to be dominant.

I wrote an undergraduate academic paper in 1987, as it happens, that speculated that the 21st century would be China's century — the paper was specifically about the then-nascent economic experimental zones and you could really see then what has happened now.

Even so, as I wrote, there's a comparison between Japan then and China now. People, including many of the Chinese leadership, seem to imagine that the growth rate they've had can be maintained, when it clearly cannot. They are making a transition into something between a developing and an advanced economy and because of that, the set of problems they face is changing. There's less and less low-hanging fruit for extreme productivity gains, and they're more and more exposed to the sorts of financial and global economic conditions that frustrate the current advanced economies. And they have some big unique problems coming up as a result of the one child policy — problems similar to what Japan is currently struggling with.

Of course, the difference is that even if China has a whole bunch of serious problems, which it will, it still well may be the dominant economy through much of this century, simply because, unlike Japan, it's got an enormous population and an enormous amount of natural resources. But a prediction of a mid-century China that is a simple extrapolation of today's China will be mistaken in some very important ways.

Similarly, assuming a relative or real decline in the US is something one can easily overestimate. As past futurists have.

Science fiction writers don't make very accurate futurists — the celebrated successes are in every case the exceptions and not the rule. But no one, really, are accurate futurists. It's kind of disappointing. I've read science fiction for almost 45 years now and there was a time when I was young that I expected that these folk, in their daring and resistance to conventional wisdom and knowledge of science and technology, really had the pulse of things and had a good sense of what the future was going to be like. My life experience has proven this to be very much not the case. They don't.

What they are good at, like other people who think about such stuff, is having specific insights into the nature and change of sufficiently limited systems. If the context is narrow enough, they'll often see things pretty clearly. But as to the whole messy, complex scope of all possible technological and cultural and scientific and economic and political change over the span of decades? Nope. They're just telling interesting stories.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [30 favorites]


Oh, and people are giving these guys a hard time for not anticipating that global nuclear war wasn't probable or imminent and that the threat of it might just disappear. But that change was predicated upon an enormous, rapid, comprehensive change in the global political context, it being a collapse of the USSR that didn't involve an equally powerful structure taking its place via the coercive power of its nukes. We can see, in retrospect, how such a thing happened and we think it should have been imaginable then. Well, it was. Along with many other, equally probable (or equally improbable) changes, many of which would have resulted in a nuclear exchange or a different version of the cold war.

Or, put another way, no one here, none of us, is considering the ways in which in the next twenty-five years a similar drastic global political change might occur. We naturally privilege the status quo, what is known to us. Anything that assumes something as profound as what happened with the collapse of the USSR seems too speculative, too radical, to be taken seriously. For example, the US could similarly collapse. How many people here would fault someone twenty years from now for failing to anticipate it? The EU could transform, or collapse, in some way that has profound global consequences. Is anyone here contemplating, much less predicting, this? India could become a rogue state like North Korea, except far more powerful and frightening. The US could. The US and China could have a limited nuclear exchange, plunging both into an extended economic and military irrelevance. Lots of profound changes could occur over the next 25 years and people should be no more faulted for failing to anticipate them than people 25 years ago should be faulted for failing to anticipate the USSR's collapse.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:21 AM on July 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


Science fiction is about the present.
posted by Wolof at 3:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [21 favorites]


No female writers were asked.

No one seemed to predict how ridiculous this would look from 2012.
posted by smoke at 3:34 AM on July 24, 2012 [40 favorites]


"Science fiction is about the present."

The future is about the present. The past is about the present. Hope and fear are about the present. Birthdays are about the present. Futuristic Science fiction is about the present in exactly the same respect as historical fiction is about the present. That doesn't make it any less about the future, or historical fiction any less about the past. Or, for that matter, the (in)accuracy of representation of the past or future any more or less relevant. It's as relevant as it is, for some purpose, in some readings.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow, Gene Wolfe was really, really in the Book of the New Sun mindset for this exercise.
posted by NoMich at 4:15 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Futuristic Science fiction is about the present in exactly the same respect as historical fiction is about the present.

We have a historical record of sorts. Our records of the future are somewhat sketchy.
posted by Wolof at 4:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


We should all do this, in some metatalk thread and see how we do in 25 years.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:49 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Orson Scott Card's entry makes it OK to read Ender's Game again.

9/11 really ruined a lot of nice things we once enjoyed in America - Dennis Miller, Card, David Mamet...
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:09 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"ROBERT SILVERBERG

We're coming out of a time of troubles into a time of risks and promise—as we have been doing since the beginning of history. I think the 21st century will be a time of terror, surprises, miracles, and glory—with the emphasis on surprises and miracles."

That pretty much nails it. The rest is detail.
posted by night_train at 5:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


We should all do this, in some metatalk thread and see how we do in 25 years.

I preemptively claim the prophecy "And there shall in that time be rumours of things going astray, and there will be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia work base, that has an attachment…at this time, a friend shall lose his friends’s hammer and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before around eight o’clock..."
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:20 AM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


A favorite for Ivan F for making some testable predictions.
posted by bystander at 5:21 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


We should all do this, in some metatalk thread and see how we do in 25 years.

We still won't have a 3 minute edit window for comments.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:23 AM on July 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


most of us would be forced to care about that, every time we glanced at the magazines in the checkout lane at the supermarket.

That's why I wear blinders when I go shopping.


No female writers were asked.

Female writers? Hahaha! That's like female doctors!

(I had the weirdest cognitive dissonance a couple years ago when I watched an old Yamato/Star Blazers episode where one of the crew members thought it was kind of funny and weird if progressive that the ship had a female doctor. My primary care physician and my dentist, who are both awesome, are women, and there are more female medical students than male ones.)
posted by Foosnark at 5:30 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I further predict that there will still be no img tag. We'll be lucky if Supreme Overlord Mathowie allows us a lowly p tag.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:31 AM on July 24, 2012


Cortex will be busy running stats about the previous 25 years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:32 AM on July 24, 2012


I predict the future will be stangely the same as the present, yet weirdly different.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:38 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I predict the future will be stangely the same as the present, yet weirdly different.

Yes, The Whelk will be a mod. Things will be very weirdly different.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 AM on July 24, 2012


Asimov nailed it with the smiling and waving though. Seriously, what did Reagan mean by it? All that smiling... and waving. It's indecent.
posted by Ritchie at 5:47 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Berkeley, California will have a theme park devoted to its high period—the 1960s.

Ooo I would totally go to that! Right now I am rewatching Mad Men and listening to the excellent BBC Radio series Day By Day which is a daily snippet of news and music from 1968. I've become a little bit obsessed by the 60's.

Female writers? Hahaha! That's like female doctors!


Oh I think you mean Doctoresses. Which is a silly idea because everyone knows their long fingernails would get in the way of surgery.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:48 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I killed JFK. . . . JFK cut me off in traffic once. It took me years to exact my revenge.

I framed Lee Harvey Oswald for the kill, because Oswald got in front of me at the express lane at the supermarket. The sign clearly states "10 items or less" and he had at least 14 items. I don't forget things like that.


Nobody f*cks with Paul Lazarro.
 
posted by Herodios at 5:50 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Funny to hear 1987 Orson Scott Card warning that civilization will be destroyed if we do not continue to seek privilege, and then look at 2012 Orson Scott Card desperately seeking to preserve privilege.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's not funny at all.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:56 AM on July 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Note to SF writers, SF fans, non-fans who insist on talking about SF anyway, and especially to the media:
Imagining a future is not the same as predicting the future.
posted by Herodios at 5:58 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


People are really crediting this Orson Scott Card dreck? The guy predicted the total collapse of the world order and a new Dark Ages! You're reading this on the Internet.
posted by gerryblog at 6:09 AM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's weird to read some of the earlier comments and learn that people believe that the threat of nuclear war wasn't as serious as we thought in the 1980's, or that it's gone away. Maybe less science fiction is in order.
posted by sneebler at 6:10 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Only a tiny portion of SF is meant to be predictive, and that tiny portion is usually ... not very good.

Insofar as most SF is about the future at all, it is speculative, which is entirely different from predictive.

That is to say, the question is attempts to answer is not, say, "Will we be able to download our brains into computers at some point in the future?"

But rather, "IF WE WERE able to download our brains into computers at some point in the future, how would that affect us? Change us as people? In what ways WOULDN'T it change us as people? How might it affect society in the grand scheme of things and individuals in the smaller scheme of things? (And would laser guns be involved? Pew! Pew!)"

The second question is a much more interesting one. It's more broadly applicable. It talks about the present, too - who we are, what we dream, what we fear, and what we expect - as much as it talks about a future that might never occur. It's not a road map of where we're going, but a wide discussion of how going down various possible roads might potentially alter our ultimate destination.

Also, lasers. Pew! Pew!
posted by kyrademon at 6:14 AM on July 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


It's 2037. Will people still give a shit about Star Wars?

Will Lucas still be tinkering with it?

or did you mean the space-based weapon thing?
posted by mediated self at 6:22 AM on July 24, 2012


I can tell the future. There will be a new Iain M. Banks Culture novel out in October. It will be called The Hydrogen Sonata.

I know this because I have an uncorrected proof right here next to me.
posted by Wolof at 6:29 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it just me, or is Orson Scott Card's prediction the most accurate of the lot?
posted by valkyryn at 6:29 AM on July 24, 2012


What I would give for Octavia Butler's take on this. Given she spent more time thinking about societal factors than any of these men, she might have made some surprisingly accurate predictions none of these guys saw. Of course, the Rodney King beating and subsequent uprising, and the rise of the Promise Keepers, hadn't happened yet, so some of her insightful dystopian writing would not have been possible in 1987.
posted by gusandrews at 6:34 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought Tim Powers' was the most accurate by far.
posted by kyrademon at 6:37 AM on July 24, 2012


Edward D. Wood, Jr.: Hey Cris, how'd you know we'd be living on Mars by 1970?
Criswell: I guessed. I made it up.
[Leans over to Ed]
Criswell: It's horseshit.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: [Ed looks very crestfallen] Really...
Criswell: Eddie, there's no such thing as a psychic. People believe my folderol because I wear a black tuxedo.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: [Still looking disappointed, but perking up] It's that easy?
Criswell: Eddie, we're in show biz. It's all about razzle-dazzle. Appearances. If you look good and you talk well, people will believe anything.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:40 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


What always strikes me about a lot of these is that the advances are predicted to come in space travel, and the predictions are hugely over-optimistic, while predictions of advances in computing are the opposite.

Seems pretty reasonable, in the context of 1987. Go back 25 years from then, to 1962, and look at the progress achieved over that period. That takes you from the very early Mercury missions -- basically putting a guy in a tiny capsule on top of a missile -- through all the Apollo missions and the moon landing and through to the Space Shuttle, which was built in clear anticipation of building a big manned space station, which would have allowed us to then build interplanetary craft and start leapfrogging around the Solar System. Not only did we have a lot of progress during that period, but space travel captured the world's imagination such that it basically became the benchmark of technological progress.

If you draw a straight line through those points and extrapolate forward 25 more years, it's not hard to imagine that by 2012 we'd have TWA and Aeroflot running scheduled flights to Mars and we'd be sending our second or third Project Orion starship in the drydock.

Computing, in contrast, wasn't showing that sort of meteoric rise over the same period, at least if you were looking in from outside the industry or academia. A science fiction writer might not have even been particularly aware of it. Some of the writers in the capsule have a reputation today for technological curmudgeonliness (Asimov in particular).

And of course the inflection point, where space travel suddenly flatlined and information technology suddenly took off and become commonplace, is right around the end of the 80s and the collapse of the USSR. While I'm not sure that the IT revolution necessarily came as a result of that, the near-death of manned space travel advancements certainly did. So it seems pretty unsurprising that they missed it, since they for the most part missed that collapse in general.

What I think we should take away from all of it is that perhaps the USSR's collapse really was a tectonic shift that nobody could have predicted, and in a million other alternate universes might have never happened, or have been accompanied by limited or global war.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:42 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Back in 1987, the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest asked science fiction writers what the world would look like 25 years in the future. They were then put in a timecapsule, sealed in a bank vault and reopened earlier this year.

I would have predicted they'd all have suffocated by now.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:53 AM on July 24, 2012 [29 favorites]


If you draw a straight line through those points and extrapolate forward 25 more years, it's not hard to imagine that by 2012 we'd have TWA and Aeroflot running scheduled flights to Mars and we'd be sending our second or third Project Orion starship in the drydock.

Hmm. I wonder about this. We made it to the moon in 1969 but hadn't really gone anywhere else by 1987. Indeed, we hadn't been back to the moon in fifteen years by that point. Things were already looking kind of static.

Further, Mars is, at minimum, 233-odd times as far from the Earth as the Moon is. 56 million miles v. 240,000. Two orders of magnitude. I don't think it was ever realistic to think that we were just around the corner from a Mars mission. We weren't in 1969, we weren't in 1987, and we aren't in 2012.

So extrapolating from the Moon to Mars by 2012 seems to be to be wildly optimistic, even given what they knew at the time.
posted by valkyryn at 6:53 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Budrys got this: At the same time, there will be a general expectation that a practical cheap-energy delivery system is just around the corner.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:58 AM on July 24, 2012


Wolof, how much am I allowed to hate you now?

On topic, I find it interesting that Zelany is the only one to predict the ebook. Admittedly, these predictions were made before the internet was anything more than a 1200 baud connection to Prodigy (well, for people not at universities), which is kind of amazing in itself.

People were still expecting space travel and still not realizing just how much computers would take over. These days there really isn't much reason, scientifically, to send people beyond low earth orbit. We'll go to mars only when someone like the Kochs decides its a good business move.
posted by Hactar at 7:01 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, Wolfe's The schools train their students for employment—how to report to computers and follow instructions. seems spot on, although he's not so great elsewhere.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:02 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


...Zelany started...
...that Zelany is...


Zelazny, it's Roger Zelazny. Author of the incomparable Chronicles of Amber.
posted by shivohum at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


For my money Asimov is the only one who really comes close. There's about 8 million people on the planet, there's widespread hunger, deprivation, and suffering, and this is directly traceable to decisions made in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s not to do much of anything about the coming ecological and energy crises (for which "Ronald Reagan" is a pretty good shorthand).
posted by gerryblog at 7:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


And yes, Butler or Le Guin would be great. Butler, at least, more or less gave us her version of 2012 in Parables. It's pretty bad!
posted by gerryblog at 7:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I meant to add "or any woman" after Le Guin's name. They're all white, too, right? And all straight? I couldn't help smiling at Benford's "…the attitudes expressed in this collection of predictions will seem very outmoded and “twen-cen." That might be the best prediction on the whole list.
posted by gerryblog at 7:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not that I needed any reason to ignore the opinions of certain asshole, gay-hating writers, but knowing they've been totally wrong for 25 years or more is still nice to know. What's most odd about Card's prediction is that a lot of it is still waiting to happen -- and, oddly, sounds like the worst corner of anti-Obamaism.

I guess what I'm saying is that I keep hearing about the downfall of America and I'm even prone to believe it. But a lot of the screeching from certain types sounds like the same old, same old.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:12 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone keeps saying Card is the most accurate, but...

The changes will be as great as those emerging from the fall of Rome, with new power centers emerging wherever stability and security are established. The homogeneity of Israel will probably allow it to survive; Mexico and Japan may change rulers, but they will still be strong.

Are Japan and Mexico really all that "strong" right now, with Japan mired down in a national crisis aggravated by the political dominance of industrial concerns that most residents complain are functioning more or less like a kind of capitalist counterpart to the Soviet propaganda machine of old, and much of Mexico hopelessly mired in endless narco-terrorism and violence? Didn't we very nearly have a complete breakdown in Mexico's political process with the election of Fox?

Also, "new power centers emerging wherever stability and security are established" didn't exactly hold for that cash-sucking, financially failed boondoggle in Dubai or in Syria or Egypt, where we were assured that the presence of strong regimes that could provide "security and stability" were vital to maintaining the stability of the region more generally and were a necessary evil.

On the contrary, I'd argue Card was wrong on just about every major point, except that Israel would survive and that Russia wouldn't be a hegemonic power (which honestly, was already becoming pretty clear by 1987, at the tail end of Glasnost, when it was already so obvious that Reagan was "courageously" scheduling his PR opportunity to take credit for the (by then) foregone conclusion of the fall of the Berlin wall.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:18 AM on July 24, 2012


Oh, and he was right there would be a great financial collapse. But then, even Carter warned us about that in the 70s.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:19 AM on July 24, 2012


Retro-futurology.
posted by Jehan at 7:20 AM on July 24, 2012


I like Pohl's one. Reminds me of the hopelessly optimistic scifi of my youth.
Well, until he gets all realist about things.


Pohl and optimistic in the same sentence?

posted by snottydick at 7:25 AM on July 24, 2012


Here in the technical vastness of the future, we can guess that surely the past was very different.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:38 AM on July 24, 2012


I will be old, but not dead. Come by to see me

damn it.
posted by jrishel at 7:38 AM on July 24, 2012


> Also, lasers. Pew! Pew!

An if-then prediction that's pretty safe: if batteries then blasters. What stands in the way of Buck Rogers/Han Solo-style sidearm blasters is they would have to store a massive amount of energy in a small space, basically where the magazine is in gunpowder firearms. Energizer Bunny can't provide enough juice to compete. But there's lots of research going into improved batteries right now to make electric cars more practical. A few real breakthroughs in battery tech for electric vehicles and bam Ah means ZAP, sidearm blasters as a knock-on side effect.
posted by jfuller at 7:43 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anybody got any idea what Wolfe is talking about in the emphasized bit below? What are the "two great plagues" he's referring to, if neither of them is AIDS? Restless Leg Syndrome? Body Dismorphic Disorder? What?
Love: There is little sex outside marriage, which normally includes a legal contract. A single instance of infidelity is amply sufficient to terminate a marriage, with damages to the aggrieved party; this is a consequence of the two great plagues of the past 25 years. (I do not include the one we call AIDS, because it began well before this was written.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:45 AM on July 24, 2012


MartinWisse: "missed the break"

Be fair, publishing lead times played a factor there. Same thing happened to Niven with "The Coldest Place," sometimes reality moves faster than publishers.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:50 AM on July 24, 2012


Sorry, somehow chopped the quote there.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:50 AM on July 24, 2012


It makes me kind of sad to see how optimistic these guys were for our future, most of them, and how much it's stalled and burned.
posted by corb at 7:56 AM on July 24, 2012


saulgoodman - they are the plagues "of the past 25 years" when he was writing about the world 25 years later, and he was not counting any that began before the prediction was written. He is therefore predicting that two entirely new STD's will ravage the world, which is why he didn't name them - they didn't (in theory) exist or have names yet.

Good prediction, honestly. Sexually Transmitted Organic Rapid Mutation Syndrome totally sucks. Stay safe, citizens, and avoid S.T.O.R.M.S.
posted by kyrademon at 7:57 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seems pretty reasonable, in the context of 1987.

Not so much, I think. I was an undergrad in 1987 and already the space future of 2001 or 2010 was looking like, well, science fiction. I might've predicted a permanent space station, a manned Mars mission, or possibly even a small lunar base by 2012, but not all three. And anything beyond that, not a chance.

I'm struck most by the belief in Japanese dominance, because I can remember when we all assumed that we'd probably be working for a zaibatsu one day.

I'd give a lot to see Delany or Ballard on this list.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:57 AM on July 24, 2012


kyrademon: " He is therefore predicting that two entirely new STD's will ravage the world, which is why he didn't name them - they didn't (in theory) exist or have names yet."

ObSF: Norman Spinrad, "Journals of the Plague Years".
posted by Chrysostom at 8:01 AM on July 24, 2012


He is therefore predicting that two entirely new STD's will ravage the world, which is why he didn't name them - they didn't (in theory) exist or have names yet.

Oh. Now I see. I always tend to forget about S.T.O.R.M.S ever since I got that sub-dermal implant in my mid-teens. Chalk it up to my privilege making me blind to the obvious again.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:19 AM on July 24, 2012


People are really crediting this Orson Scott Card dreck? The guy predicted the total collapse of the world order and a new Dark Ages! You're reading this on the Internet.

I know! It's like he could see the YouTube comments.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


predictions of advances in computing are the opposite.

Well, Wolfe sort of predicted Mass Effect 3, except he neglected to mention you'd have to push a button every once-in-a-while:

dramas are performed by computer-generated images indistinguishable (on screen) from living people. Scenery is provided by the same method. Although science fiction and fantasy characterize the majority of these dramas, they are not so identified.

posted by straight at 8:25 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: you all seem like nice folks. so I'm going to share my secret.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2012


Too bad Philip K Dick wasn't in on this action. I can only imagine what kind of wildly paranoid and yet somehow spot-on speculation he might have memorialized for this occasion. He might have even predicted the rise of Kenyan Manchurian Obama!
posted by saulgoodman at 8:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Judging from the number of people who think Card's hilarious inaccurate prediction was eerily on the nose, I'm thinking that I wouldn't place much trust in a Metafilter thread trying to predict the shape of the world by 5pm tonight, let alone 25 years in the future.
posted by yoink at 8:34 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


re Gregory Benford ("I will be old, but not dead. Come by to see me")

He has a blog, updated with decent frequency, and recently posted an interview wherein he discusses what he's currently working on and what he's done over the past few years. Apparently he ran a couple of biotech startups, but is now back writing, and getting his back catalog published as ebooks and print-on-demand. Wonder if he saw that coming in 1987.

There's not an entry posted about the time capsule yet, though it seems like obvious blog fodder.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:41 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]



The function of "our" society may depend on processing information and biotechnology to subjugate goods-producing societies. These societies may be geographically external, or may be yet another social stratum within central North America.
Now I need to read Algis Budrys.
posted by deathpanels at 8:43 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There will be a major earthquake in Northern and in Southern California within the next 25 years.

The plates are constantly moving against each other except in a few places, and that tension will have to be released eventually. This has been happening for millions of years, so it is a pretty simple and obvious prediction.

It is much harder to predict something like a China economic collapse or a South Asian Sea war. Humans are a lot less predictable.
posted by eye of newt at 8:45 AM on July 24, 2012


the shape of the world by 5pm tonight

I predict the world will be a better place by at least two beers. Let's see how I do.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


shivohum: "...Zelany started...
...that Zelany is...


Zelazny, it's Roger Zelazny. Author of the incomparable Chronicles of Amber
"

I think it's pretty horrible that it took you commenting on this for me to even see that there is a second 'z' in his name. I've seriously never noticed it.

No wonder i've never been able to search for his books at the library, other than by actually walking to that section.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2012


So many people thought we'd be on Mars, but nobody saw the smartphone coming.
posted by KathrynT at 9:00 AM on July 24, 2012


No wonder i've never been able to search for his books at the library, other than by actually walking to that section.

"Zelany, Aaron
Zelany, Albert
Zelany, Amanda
Zelany, Amber
Zelany, Arthur
Zelany, Asdrubal
Zelany, Attilla
Zelany, Attilla John
Zelany, Az...Oh to hell with it! Curse this endless card catalog! Once again I must just wend my weary way to the Sci-Fi shelves!"
posted by yoink at 9:12 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here in the technical vastness of the future, we can guess that surely the past was very different.

I say live it or live with it!
 
posted by Herodios at 9:14 AM on July 24, 2012


eye of newt: "There will be a major earthquake in Northern and in Southern California within the next 25 years.

The plates are constantly moving against each other except in a few places, and that tension will have to be released eventually. This has been happening for millions of years, so it is a pretty simple and obvious prediction.

It is much harder to predict something like a China economic collapse or a South Asian Sea war. Humans are a lot less predictable.
"

It's still a dodgy prediction. There will be major quakes in California at some point. Whether they actually happen in the next 25 years is less certain.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:22 AM on July 24, 2012


Algis Budrys FTW, though Feinberg wasn't really that far off...oddly though, the real benefits of nanotech that we are currently enjoying are mostly indirect...we don't have diamond windows, but we do have multi-terabyte hard drives due to our greater understanding of how magnetic fields can be trapped in a substrate by examining them with atomic force microscopes. also self-assembling coatings on bottles and touchscreens and a million other things...the real advances in nanotech (well...outside of chip manufacturing) seem to be more due to its effects on materials science research than directly on manufacturing...though that could change...

O.K. my prediction for the future: money is going away. The internet is destroying it. (whether or not it will be gradual or catastrophic or population-decimating and what, exactly, is going to replace it, is anyone's guess, tho.) I read recently that Google's Android represents the greatest destruction of actual money in the history of the world (those apps you love so much? that used to be somebody's JOB)...the way I see it is this (at least for manufactured goods): every product is someone's 'loss leader'...any time that any product becomes popular enough that there is a demand for it, some canny retailer is selling it at a loss to get you into the store. However, that store is accessible from anywhere now via the web...what happens to a world where any product can be purchased at below cost?
posted by sexyrobot at 9:32 AM on July 24, 2012


So many people thought we'd be on Mars, but nobody saw the smartphone coming.

Pity they didn't include William Gibson. Neuromancer was already three years old in '87.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on July 24, 2012



Hey kids! I recommend your following up on Jehan's this-ish Retrofuturology link.

Apparently little updated since 1999, this is a "study of attempts by major SF authors to predict the future, taking advantage of hindsight to evaluate exactly how wrong they were." S'fun!

Here's my favourite from among Robert A. Heinlein's 1950 predictions for the year 2000:
It is utterly impossible that the United States will start a “preventive war.” We will fight when attacked, either directly or in a territory we have guaranteed to defend.
On the other waldo, I agree 99-44/100 percent with his 'negative predictions'.

Things we won't get soon, if ever:
a. Travel through time*.
b. Travel faster than the speed of light.**
c. “Radio” transmission of matter.***
d. Manlike robots with manlike reactions.
e. Laboratory creation of life.
f. Real understanding of what “thought” is and how it is related to matter.
g. Scientific proof of personal survival after death.
h. A permanent end to war.

D, E and F seem to've made the site author a bit colicky. Must be a Orthodox Singularitarian.

"I for one have already achieved (f)", he says.

----------------------------------------------------------
* By humans. Bozons: yes. Bozos: no.
**FTL travel through space.
*** See L. Krause, The Physics of Star Trek.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:49 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So many people thought we'd be on Mars, but nobody saw the smartphone coming.

They tend to look toward things that matter.
posted by bongo_x at 9:53 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and he was right there would be a great financial collapse. But then, even Carter warned us about that in the 70s.

I think Marx was there first.
posted by bongo_x at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Berkeley, California will have a theme park devoted to its high period—the 1960s.

Berkeley doesn't need to "have" a theme park devoted to the 1960s. It is already a 1960s theme park. Just walk down Telegraph.
posted by blucevalo at 10:06 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


bongo_x: "They tend to look toward things that matter."

I'd argue smartphones have had and will have a greater impact on people's lives than a manned mission to Mars. And I say that as someone who would like to see one.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:10 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


So many people thought we'd be on Mars, but nobody saw the smartphone coming.

Nor did they forsee other civilization-disrupting technologies such as snuggies and shake-weights.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:19 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


They tend to look toward things that matter.

My iphone makes me feel more like I'm living in the future than anything else I've ever interacted with. When you say "things that matter," what do you mean exactly?
posted by KathrynT at 10:22 AM on July 24, 2012


For my money Asimov is the only one who really comes close. There's about 8 million people on the planet, there's widespread hunger, deprivation, and suffering, and this is directly traceable to decisions made in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s not to do much of anything about the coming ecological and energy crises (for which "Ronald Reagan" is a pretty good shorthand).

There are only 7 billion people on the planet, life expectancy is up, even in places like sub-saharan Africa, fewer people are in poverty, and most causes of mortality are in decline - as is fertility, slowing the rate of population growth. Take a stroll through Google's Public Data Explorer and you'll see that for the vast majority of humanity, life today is quite a bit better than it was 25 years ago.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Before you highly privileged people decry the influence and impact of smartphones, consider the difference its making in rural Africa.
posted by infini at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would also like to take this opportunity to plug my new book, to be published in both computerized and printed versions in time for 2012 Christmas sales—but I've not yet decided on its proper title. Grandchildren of Amber sounds at this point a little clumsy, but may have to serve.
delmoi: Except for the part about the new book, given that he died in '95.


I wonder if he would be astounded, appalled or delighted at how many people play the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game. I personally know dozens of stories of grandchildren of Amber. How sad that none of them will ever be known to Zelazny himself.
posted by BrashTech at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2012


you'll see that for the vast majority of humanity, life today is quite a bit better than it was 25 years ago.

This is quite true and there's something a little sad about it: not, that is, in the fact itself, but in the fact that it makes so little, if any, difference to people's sense of the "how the world is going." People are so wedded to their narratives of Grand Decline (see the response to Card's nonsense in this thread) that they remain firmly convinced that everything is going to hell in a handbasket regardless of actual data.

I doubt that in the long run (or even medium run) total average human happiness can be significantly increased on decreased, which is a horrible challenge to the underlying philosophical premises of any progressive politics.
posted by yoink at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Curse this endless card catalog!

I haven't seen a card catalog since I was a kid... and I ain't no spring chicken. The little amber terminals that replaced them did not do: "Showing results for Roger Zelazny, show results for Roger Zelany instead?"

You could scroll through all authors Y-Z one down-arrow at a time, tho. Easier just to walk over to the science fiction shelves.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2012


So many people thought we'd be on Mars, but nobody saw the smartphone coming.

What amount to smartphones or at least PDAs appear in Niven/Pournelle's 1974 The Mote in God's Eye.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


JERRY POURNELLE

A computer will win the Campbell & Hubbard Awards.
I'm trying to decide if this is him being optimistic about AI, or him dissing those two awards.
posted by egypturnash at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


egypturnash: "I'm trying to decide if this is him being optimistic about AI, or him dissing those two awards."

Partly depends on which Campbell award he's talking about, I guess. Pournelle himself won the first Campbell for new writer (this is the Campbell inevitably referred to as Not A Hugo). The Campbell for best novel tends to be quirky, and I would guess Pournelle had no love for the likes of Malzberg's Beyond Apollo.

Not sure if these predictions were made before or after the 1987 Worldcon, but there was an incident there that didn't make Hubbard very popular.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Hubbard was probably mentioned because this whole "predict-the-future-and-put-it-in-a-time-capsule" thing was a project of the Hubbard (L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future).
posted by kyrademon at 11:31 AM on July 24, 2012


Yes, The Whelk will be a mod. Things will be very weirdly different.

Rubs rubber gloves together gleefully.
posted by The Whelk at 11:53 AM on July 24, 2012


It might be the future, but italics tags still won't autoclose....
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2012


> You could scroll through all authors Y-Z one down-arrow at a time, tho.

Did that once for subject categories, at least. Tedious but ultimately rewarding--right after "computer networks" I found "computer newtworks". (No holdings in the category, I'm sorry to say.) (Yet.)
posted by jfuller at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


>>...Zelany started...
>>...that Zelany is...
>Zelazny, it's Roger Zelazny.


Still, it would be interesting to park Delany and Zelazny in a mountainside tent in remote Alaska for a couple days and read what transpires.
posted by Twang at 1:13 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Twang: "Still, it would be interesting to park Delany and Zelazny in a mountainside tent in remote Alaska for a couple days and read what transpires."

Very little, at this point. Well, Delany would probably complain about the stench....
posted by Chrysostom at 1:25 PM on July 24, 2012


Anybody got any idea what Wolfe is talking about in the emphasized bit below? What are the "two great plagues" he's referring to, if neither of them is AIDS? Restless Leg Syndrome? Body Dismorphic Disorder? What?

"Love: There is little sex outside marriage, which normally includes a legal contract. A single instance of infidelity is amply sufficient to terminate a marriage, with damages to the aggrieved party; this is a consequence of the two great plagues of the past 25 years. (I do not include the one we call AIDS, because it began well before this was written.)"


I stopped reading just to come here and ask that myself! I was thinking -- herpes? Would you really call that a great plague? Syphilis? That's been around for centuries. What is he talking about?

And this --

I do not include the one we call AIDS, because it began well before this was written.

That really stopped me in my tracks. How did he know that in '87? How fascinating.
posted by cairdeas at 2:19 PM on July 24, 2012


I would also love to know more of Asimov's thoughts on Reagan.

Jack Williamson's letter was really poignant.

I really enjoyed reading these. Thanks for making the post, MartinWisse!
posted by cairdeas at 2:40 PM on July 24, 2012


For my money Asimov is the only one who really comes close. There's about 8 [b]illion people on the planet, there's widespread hunger, deprivation, and suffering, and this is directly traceable to decisions made in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s not to do much of anything about the coming ecological and energy crises (for which "Ronald Reagan" is a pretty good shorthand).

There are only 7 billion people on the planet, life expectancy is up, even in places like sub-saharan Africa, fewer people are in poverty, and most causes of mortality are in decline - as is fertility, slowing the rate of population growth. Take a stroll through Google's Public Data Explorer and you'll see that for the vast majority of humanity, life today is quite a bit better than it was 25 years ago.


"Life today is quite a bit better" isn't the same thing as "there's not widespread hunger, deprivation, and suffering." You're confusing acceleration for velocity. Even if things are moving in the right direction -- they are in some ways but not in others -- that doesn't mean things aren't still bad.
posted by gerryblog at 3:00 PM on July 24, 2012


And I've never read Dave Wolverton and now never will, but time capsules aren't the best place to get in some axe-grinding about your ex-wife.

As weirdly axe-grindy as that 'prediction' appears, he was kind of right (except that the Men's Rights movement isn't quite as mainstream as he seems to have figured it would be, mainly because it's ridiculous).
posted by asnider at 3:15 PM on July 24, 2012


"Life today is quite a bit better" isn't the same thing as "there's not widespread hunger, deprivation, and suffering." You're confusing acceleration for velocity. Even if things are moving in the right direction -- they are in some ways but not in others -- that doesn't mean things aren't still bad.

No I'm not. The implication of the Asmiov quote was that things would be quite a bit worse than they were in 1985. Happily, the opposite is true. We have actually done surprisingly well on Millenium Development Goals, and over the 25 period in question the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by half. That's actually outstanding.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:40 PM on July 24, 2012


"Life today is quite a bit better" isn't the same thing as "there's not widespread hunger, deprivation, and suffering." You're confusing acceleration for velocity. Even if things are moving in the right direction -- they are in some ways but not in others -- that doesn't mean things aren't still bad.
It seems obvious that when these people say "things will be bad" they don't mean "things will be bad, like they are now, but significantly less bad". Hunger, starvation, derivation and so on exist, but at much lower levels then they did in the 1980s. Life in Africa today is much, much better.

I guess the 1980s were some dark days or something, but looking at these today they seem ridiculous. Things are way, way better then they were in the 1980s, especially in the developing world. Certainly, not everything is fixed, and global warming is poised to be a big issue. If you look at the recent famine in somalia, you could say it made an event like that more likely. But here in the US there is a major drought going on and the prediction is - 1% higher food prices next year. It is not a major catastrophe.

"Everything is going to be horrible" was not an accurate prediction at all from the perspective of the 1980s.
posted by delmoi at 4:06 PM on July 24, 2012


One of the things that gives me hope for the future is the fact that we are so bad at predicting it.
posted by happyroach at 4:14 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Everything is going to be horrible" was not an accurate prediction at all from the perspective of the 1980s.

I think we just honestly disagree on this, on three levels: one, on the extent to which things are genuinely horrible; two, on the extent to which things have indeed gotten worse since the 1980s; three, on whether Asimov is specifically predicting the horribleness of things against an imaginary steady-state 1980s that continues forever or against how good things might be versus how bad we've continued to make them. I really think like most writers of SF he's talking about the latter; the issue is not just a comparison of raw numbers of starving people but the fact that there would still be starving people at all 25 years later, when there didn't need to be.

I'll grant you, he probably thought things would be even worse than they are, but I still think he's the top of the list.
posted by gerryblog at 4:31 PM on July 24, 2012


eye of newt: "There will be a major earthquake in Northern and in Southern California within the next 25 years."

It's still a dodgy prediction. There will be major quakes in California at some point. Whether they actually happen in the next 25 years is less certain.
--Chrysostom

Not so dodgy. California Has More Than 99% Chance Of A Big Earthquake WIthin 30 Years says a report written by various groups including the USGS five years ago.
posted by eye of newt at 11:03 PM on July 24, 2012


Anigbrowl, most of the movement towards reaching the MDG comes from Chinese development.
posted by moorooka at 12:41 AM on July 25, 2012


Now I need to read Algis Budrys.

Yes, yes, you do. Try Rogue Moon or Falling Torch.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:48 AM on July 25, 2012


If you draw a straight line through those points and extrapolate forward 25 more years

This is what most 'predictors' do - what if stuff trending today keeps trending? - and it doesn't work. There are thousands of lines, and they affect one another. They intersect, bob, duck, weave, mate, cut one another off, pop up out of nowhere, kill each other dead. Some combine to form 'mega trends' (and with stuff like scenario planning you can use these to get a jump on the competition) but the influence and emergence of new mega trends means even these may be short lived.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:09 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is what most 'predictors' do - what if stuff trending today keeps trending? - and it doesn't work.

If only there were a science that could provide a baseline or foundation to build our predictions upon.

Perhaps a branch of applied mathematics. Call it something like -- Histrionic Psychology or Psychic Historicism.

I know what you're thinking: "O. Dam, give it a rest". But I can be stubborn as a mule.
posted by Herodios at 6:42 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


three blind mice writes "Many of them gloomily predict 'if there are any survivors to the nuclear war' which never was close to happening in 1987 and totally missed the impending collapse of the Soviet empire which lay only two years in front of them."

Someone else mentioned this up thread but I think it was untrue that a nuclear exchange was far from happening in 1987. In the previous few years nuclear war or at least a limited nuclear exchange almost happened by accident on a couple occasions. Heck I'd say it's not out of the realm of possibility today with either an exchange between India and Pakistan or Israel loosing their shit.

cairdeas writes "That really stopped me in my tracks. How did he know that in '87? How fascinating."

AIDS was well known in '87 to be sexually transmitted. You can see in this time line that the UK started their AIDS information campaign in '87 with the US following in '88. Heck AZT was first available in 1987.
posted by Mitheral at 8:09 AM on July 25, 2012


That Williamson entry really hits me, too.
posted by doctornemo at 8:56 AM on July 25, 2012


AIDS was well known in '87 to be sexually transmitted. You can see in this time line that the UK started their AIDS information campaign in '87 with the US following in '88. Heck AZT was first available in 1987.

I might have been totally misreading Wolfe, but absolutely, they knew in '87 that it was sexually transmitted. What surprised me about what Wolfe said was his statement that seemed to be about how long AIDS had been around. That it had been around longer than 25 years.

this is a consequence of the two great plagues of the past 25 years. (I do not include the one we call AIDS, because it began well before this was written.)"

And actually, he was completely right. These days, we think AIDS arose in humans in Africa some time in the 50's and came to Haiti by the 60's, made a few random incursions into the US that didn't take, and finally made the incursion that did take in the late '70's. Did people know that in '87? If not, it would be fascinating to know what led him to that conclusion. It seems like it was only in the past 5-10 years that we started learning that AIDS was actually around for decades before it exploded here.
posted by cairdeas at 9:34 AM on July 25, 2012


Yeah, the relative lack of ebook predictions there is surprising, given that Hart had been running Project Gutenberg since the 1970s and by the late 80s I recall many, many etexts being available at multiple redundant sites, not to mention via Usenet and on Bitnet and Fido. Of course, portable readers were less easy to come by...
posted by meehawl at 10:28 AM on July 25, 2012


the relative lack of ebook predictions there is surprising

Here you can kill two birds with one stone: Read Asimov's story, "The Holmes-Ginsbook Device", on your own copy of the very machine this Nobel-prize-seeking invention was meant to replace.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:16 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Did people know that in '87"

Yes and no. I mean, it was only around 1987 had they become sure of the virus. Gosh, it's been a long time and my memory — looking it up just now, I see that it was 1985 they decided that LAV and HTLV-III were the same virus and renamed it HIV. I sure remember the controversy about it during that era and how pissy Gallo got.

Anyway, it was only in the mid-nineties that they began to be pretty sure about the history and origin of the virus — and by "pretty sure", I mean something that is still relative.

Even so, it was 1987 that they identified HIV in the preserved blood of Robert Rayford, a young man who had died in 1969 of what was at the time an unknown disease. His is currently the earliest confirmed case of HIV infection in North America. So, by 1987, there were indications that it had been around NA for at least 18 years. If I recall correctly, I think that in the mid-eighties it was surmised that HIV had been in Haiti for a good while.

I think that whenever it was recognized that HIV was very similar to SIVs (simian immunodeficiency viruses) then it was assumed that HIV originated in West/Central Africa.

What's kind of weird for me looking all this up now is that everything seems about five years earlier than I remember it. What I mean is that I remember the consensus on these things coming about five years later than what I've seeing when I look it up now. Part of that is the 20/20 vision of hindsight in how we write histories of these things. (The other part is that I was only an interested layperson then.) For various reasons, I followed a fair amount of the research literature on AIDS from about 1985 onward; but, again, only as a layperson. I paid attention to the stuff that was meaningful to a layperson and that was emerging consensus. And the consensus in quickly changing science lags further behind the research than you might expect. Look at the Montagnier/Gallo argument — it took three years for Gallo to admit that his virus was the same as Montagnier's and during that period there were partisans on both sides.

And then, in the context of this thread, you have to take into consideration how long it takes for the emerging consensus to filter out to the general public (SF writers aren't exactly the general public, but AIDS research isn't exactly space science, either).

So it's possible that he meant what you inferred. But I think you're just misunderstanding him — he was writing from a fictional 2012 and referring to the 25 years previous to 2012, not his actual present time of writing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2012


What I find most poignant about all the AIDS concern in this time capsule is that none of them could have known that Asimov was dying from AIDS and, given this prevailing theme of so many of the other SF writers here, that he chose not to even mention the HIV pandemic is telling.
posted by meehawl at 1:41 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I need to read Algis Budrys.

Yes, yes, you do. Try Rogue Moon or Falling Torch.


Rogue Moon is excellent (although I prefer it with the title Budrys originally gave it: The Death Machine). Michaelmas is one of my all-time favorite sf books - about a man who secretly runs the world. Another excellent book by Budrys is Who? - a genius scientist who cannot prove his own identity.
posted by Ritchie at 8:27 PM on July 25, 2012


that Asimov was dying from AIDS

*too stunned to weep like she did back when he passed*
posted by infini at 6:07 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Naturally, and as usual, I must point out that any such discussion is incomplete without mentioning John Brunner and his eerily prescient novels Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


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