Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Predicting the Future

It's a tricky business showing the future. Novels and movies usually get it wrong.

The Back to the Future trilogy was on last weekend and the middle movie begins with a trip to 2015. The movie was made in 1989 so they were predicting how things would be around 25 years in the future. We are not quite to 2015 yet but we can make a pretty good guess at how accurate Back to the Future was. Lousy.

Things they got wrong:

Hovercars, hoverboards, portable fusion reactors, self-fitting/self-drying jackets, dust-free book covers, holographic movie ads, weather control, electronic sleep inducers, and artificial intelligence waiters. The legal system streamlined by the elimination of lawyers.

Things they got right:
Self-tightening shoe laces (just announced last month and inspired by the movie). Teleconferencing. Wide-screen/flat screen TV.

In addition, there are a few things that are close enough to get partial credit. It looks like USA Today will still be around. The teens in the movie walk around with their pockets pulled out or their pants worn inside-out. That's close enough to the continuing trend of guys wearing their pants pulled down to the crotch and showing their underwear.

This is one in a long line of failed predictions. 1984 was not like 1984. 2001 and 2010 have passed without manned flights to Jupiter or talking computers.

It is tough predicting the future. Often writers take current trends and project them. In the 1960s, everyone expected the space program to continue so lunar colonies and trips to other planets seemed likely.

It is also tempting to throw in major technological advances like flying cars. The physics breakthroughs needed to do this may never happen but nothing says future like some form of personal flight.

Some things are totally skipped. Hardly anyone predicted today's interconnected computers. The best example that I can think of was Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. This was written in 1975 and had a "data-net" that corresponds to the Internet. It even had computer worms (this is where the term came from, nerly a decade before the first actual worm was written). Even that version of the future was passed years ago. I am not aware of anyone who predicted that all of the world's knowledge would be available through my phone.

While writers missed the interconnected computers, artificial intelligence seemed so easy, usually with negative results. For every Robby the Robot, there is a HAL 9000.

In the end, the future is never as interesting as predictions make it out to be but it is safer and more comfortable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall something like the internet being available through a book called "1984" many years ago. In fact, wasn't it the main characters job to edit and censor information on the web?