by David Lee Beowulf
The inside jacket of David Kyle's 1976 (Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd.) A Pictorial History of Science Fiction has this to say about its subject:
"The most exciting form of literary entertainment ever... The most relevant and serious fiction written today... Both these statements apply to science fiction - and both are true."
Sometime around 1904, Hugo Gernsbeck,, in Ralph 124C41, envisioned television - right down the to the channels. Maybe forty-five years later, Arthur C. Clarke envisioned satellite networks. About thirty years later, Ben Bova envisioned an electronic book; strange how it looked like one of them "Newton" devices...
Of course, there's also the regular global nuclear wars, the global starvation due to hyper-overpopulation, alien invasions, cats piloting footballs, and a few other wonderful things that they got wrong (mostly because the doom-sayers were mostly scientists or pseudo-scientists rather than SF authors). This irked me enough in 1988 to write a letter to the editor of Bioscience, wherein I attempted to tear one of their writers a new one over an article that recommended scientists consult science fiction when looking for answers to their research. They printed the letter, too, but the more I think about it, I was kind of a jerk. I think what got me upset was my undergraduate science professors and others who seriously looked upon my own interests in the "unscientific, non-serious" fantastic with nothing but ugly frowns. My response to Bioscience was simply me parroting my bastard profs.
Sure, science fiction isn't necessarily fiction and it isn't necessarily science, but it is creative and most of what I've read makes a genuine effort to include a lot of "hard" science - that is, just enough to be plausibly "stretched." And a lot of SF writers, especially those of the "golden age," had practical backgrounds in science and engineering (along with a good feel for economics, politics, and history - that is, political economy, etc.). Rarely, though, did they have backgrounds actually running things, though, as those people write mostly write Satanic horror spy novels (e.g., E. Howard Hunt writing as David St. John - ahhhhh!)
As far as the next 1000 years is concerned, well, the only book that foresaw the current future is the Bible, and that ain't science fiction... So let's see, a thousand years ago there was war in the Middle East over religion... Hmmmm, that's kind of what's going on today. There really is nothing new under the sun!
So in the big picture, I predict that a thousand years from now everyone living now will be dead. And I bet anyone a million dollars that I'm right!
So, how about a look though my eyes at a future that's relevant to me; that is, the next fifty years or so. Okay?
First of all, there's always progress and there's a lot to progress. But.... I see a future only through things that are immediately relevant to the way I live based upon what my actual behavior is. That is, if I not only give a rat's ass about something but I actually use it, then it's got a future worth thinking about, as far as I'm concerned.
I think I can honestly predict pretty far into the future, provided I borrow a bit from science fiction. There are serious problems here on earth, they're our fault, but they're by no means fatal to humanity, certainly not "reversible," and not at all unsolvable. They are, however, unattainable in this lifetime.
Also, things will not get any worse than they already are...
Unless the USA is wiped off the face of the earth...
And then things will get better within a few short years...
First of all, as far as technology is concerned, it's done more to hinder the species than strengthen it. Before modern medicine, only the strongest survived. Adversity was the norm, and might made right. It made superior humans. Of course, with superior men, life was brutal, cruel, and generally short. But if you caught a cold, you probably would die. And that little scrape on your knee - you're history. Dude, doctors started washing up before surgery in the mid-1800's!
Technology, as well, has had its way with reality. Not in the sense of fiction; fantasy stories have been with us longer than writing. Consider that traveling ten miles will take a human who's in good shape about an hour to run. With a horse it's about, what, thirty minutes? Think about it...
Likewise, our modern communications allow people to talk to each other from ridiculous distances, like thousands of miles. In the not-too-distant past, that birthday card would take at least a month from Georgia to reach your cousin who's studying in Germany. How'd he get to Germany? Took the Concorde, about five hours... etc.! We live in a fantasy world called the Dawn of the 21st Century.
The problems we face on a real scale are exclusively environmental. The non-problems we'll "solve" are largely frivolous. I'm not necessarily as cynical as Scott Adams in The Dilbert Future. For example, Adams (among many others who think right) predicts that Star Trek gadgetry like transporters simply will not work, as the simpletons who populate the planet would play pretty horrible, permanent tricks on each other. I would add to it that the technology required for transporters would need several generations worth of solid, very expensive research in serious physics. The environmental problems are damned expensive to fix, too, but that's only because of their scale; the solutions require very little extra science but a lot of engineering.
Which brings me up to my predictions...
1. There will be no cities under domes. It's a stupid idea, and unfathomably expensive. There air will never be "bad" enough such that living things will require protection under huge domes. On a practical scale, I have seen with my own eyes a city of 7000 constructed in a year. This city had good water and electricity; good protection from barbarians, too. This city was largely made of wood. It cost a lot, too. Building a giant, rigid glass (Plexi- or otherwise) dome would take at least three hundred years - based on how long it took to fabricate the Mount Palomar telescope's mirror. Erecting the structural falsework required, even with an army of construction robots (see below) would take a hundred years in itself. Then once it's all built and in place, the environmental/HVAC equipment, along with power generation (it'd have to be nuclear, not solar), would require its own government just to maintain at maximum efficiency (and thus maximum comfort) all the time. If something went wrong, imagine mobilizing an evacuation of fifty Disney Worlds. Where would the people go, anyway?
2. People will continue to live in cities, or if they choose, suburbs. Over the next hundred years, powering dwellings will become even more efficient, cleaner, and cheaper than it is now (and powering American dwellings is quite efficient, clean, and cheap even today). This is a reality even with all the damned cars: the air quality and water quality in modern American cities is better than ever, using the mid-1960's - that's preNEPA - as a benchmark. (Look up NEPA if you don't know what it is; hint: Nixon-era environmental legislation.)
3. Trash. Americans throw away an enormous amount. We also waste too much. But the American "disposable society" fuels the economies of China and the entire "third world," so maybe it's not a bad thing. Nevertheless, the pain I feel whenever I see a perfectly good set of bookshelves out on the corner will manifest itself some day in local government adopting recycling policies forbidding throwing away of manufactured goods. That is, everything will have its own recycling bin. This one for electrical wire, that one for painted wood, etc. Hence Americans, not wanting to put up with the hassle of dismantling everything they have just because they're tired of it, will force themselves into keeping things longer. The slack in the economy will be picked up by the next generations of people who want new things. General rubbish itself will be converted into energy. In cities like Baltimore, they're already burning trash for energy on a mass scale. In the future, coastal cities like New York will have their trash hauled to massive offshore functional cities where natural gas production platforms will burn it night and day, generating electricity that's sent back to the city over stormproof subsea transmission lines. This isn't a new idea at all - quite the contrary, I witnessed a lecture on it at the 1990 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. However, realization will take no less than fifty years as the present generations just simply haven't put enough money into the system to start investing in such utilities. Land-locked and otherwise non-coastal cities will erect huge trash burning plants that use even cleaner technologies - as-yet invented - such that the air coming out of the stacks is just as pure as that going in.
4. Power generation and transportation. We will not run out of oil. We will, however, run out of patience for traffic jams, maybe. I think it will take a nuclear war to get Americans out of their cars and into mass transit on a nationwide scale. Right now there's no incentive or actual need for public transportation unless you're anal about hating cars (like myself). But thinking about the time needed to build a domed city, how long will it take to rebuild the highways so they can accommodate even more traffic? Hey, we're living longer and there will be even more of us driving in the next twenty years. The highways will forever be under construction. Yet there's no need, why not build railways running the lengths of the medians? Airline transport will get forever worse. There will still be an endless amount of schmucks who will tolerate longer and longer delays and worse service, yet the airlines will buy fewer new planes and do as little as possible to improve their service. As a result, air travel will kill itself just long enough for the rail systems get their acts back together. New airports may be built farther away from population centers and Americans will realize that planes are only of use when their destinations are more than eight hours away.
5. Employment. There will be more mergers and more new businesses starting up. New markets for the crap we produce will emerge, and we'll, as a nation, be richer than ever. Nothing short of a full-on nuke attack will change how America does business. However, some jobs will be eliminated or completely changed. Paper offices will never be replaced, as business is done on paper, there are also legal issues that will never go away, electronic signature be damned; sooner or later you'll need a printout... For at least the next hundred years, robots will not replace people in certain capacities, like large-scale building construction, simply because humans can do it better. The paradigm shift towards full-scale robot construction crews will only take place if it actually becomes cheaper to invest in extremely high technology used where construction tolerances of inch magnitude are fully acceptable; that is, right now it's not economical to pour concrete with a device that's used to working in Angstroms. People will continue to retire and someone will take their place, remember, it's about us, not robots.
6. Education. Teachers will never be paid as much as they're worth simply because they're teaching, not doing. Also, a "self-educated" rock star or athlete will always turn a quicker buck than a professional educator, get over it. Regardless, schools will flourish in some areas and only plod on in others. Always, though, the smart, diligent kids will make something of themselves, no matter what. The replacement of textbooks with computer terminals will fail as, well, duh! Books will be cherished and enjoyed by everyone. What's the biggest on-line retailer? And what do they sell? Right: books. For the next two hundred years, at least, individuals will amass great libraries that they'll pass down to their children. Schools will collect huge amounts of books as well - and need more space for them, thus bigger schools will need to be built, of better materials. There will be plenty of smart kids who eschew the quick, dirty, and lucrative jobs (which largely will be gone within the next twenty years, as the already established companies will be the only entities who can do research at a profit) for more traditional careers in science, engineering, medicine, government-funded research, etc. Mainly because their parents will be quite wealthy and will have planned out their children's educations well in advance. The "inner city" kids will be screwed, as usual, but that won't last as they'll get wise and discover that there won't be any money in illegal activity. Sex might be a problem...
7. Sex. People will still be having sex.
8. Buying and selling. High-tech toys (see below) will become cheaper and cheaper. This is because Americans already have enough dumb stuff that they'll only buy more if it's cheaper and plays the various media they already have. You might think I'm wrong about this and point to records versus CDs. Sure, but only for those few people out there who aren't interested in collecting music. There's a turntable renaissance going on right now, and a lot of records are still out there. Nevertheless, it seems that a lot of people have already accumulated a heck of a lot, of CDs and they've only demonstrated that they'll keep on doing it as long as the record companies put 'em out. However, prices will go down fast and faster as people "discover" online auctions and simply refuse to be the ones paying retail. As a result, less new stuff will be produced, but the "old stuff" will recirculated. People will purchase books on how to keep their old stuff in good working shape (probably my generation, i.e., people born in the 1960s), and as a result, stereo equipment will last 50 years when it was supposed to last a mere five. This will be the new paradigm: a) Unless it's groceries (note: Priceline is dead) then I probably can get "it" cheaper online. b) Shipping costs are a big factor in whether or not I should by "it' online. c) If I can't get "it" cheaper online, then I don't need it.
9. Food and health. For Americans, the fattest people in history, we'll still keep eating food that's bad for us, we'll still smoke, dip, shoot up, snort, guzzle whatever we damn well feel like. But since class action suits will be filed on behalf of the retards who eat food that's bad for them, smoke, dip, shoot up, snort, guzzle whatever they damn well felt like, the medical establishment will adopt to making people feel good even though they've screwed up their bodies beyond repair. "Mental illness" will be as common as the sniffles, and thus a new wave of drugs will hit the market. Everyone will "remain calm," even though they can't walk the stairs at age 30. Those in the minority who take good care of themselves will find that being healthy among myriad sick people is a boost to the ego, though it will never catch on. People will live longer, sure, but most people will be physical wrecks at age 40. But they won't mind, because they're all on drugs.
10. Entertainment. Though Gernsbeck my have correctly predicted television, he did not predict how bad it would be. I whole-heartedly gave up on television six years ago. Partly because I didn't own one (nor did I live somewhere where I had access on-demand to one), and partly because it was so horrible. The trend towards "reality-based" television -- and I don't mean Survivor, I mean mainstream dramatic shows and sitcoms -- have destroyed any interest in current television for me. By "reality-based," I mean making every single character an anti-hero. Writing entire series around bodily functions and bad decisions. Movies are worse, and a good play hasn't been written in the last 100 years. But that doesn't mean there haven't been some really, really great TV shows and movies made a long time ago. But you know what? Videotapes take up a lot of space. And I've never been into recording stuff, as I don't care that much any more. But these DVDs are a lot of fun. They're compact and have a lot more stuff on them than a tape. Plus, they have those cool sounds, like DTS and Dolby 5.1 and such. Also, you don't have to rewind them. But a good VCR (and a "bad" one, if you take care of it) will last a long, long time. And so will a DVD player. Thusly, videotapes won't go away, they'll just take a second to DVDs. The same goes for music. Pop music will always be awful, and yet it will enjoy the mass success it has since its beginnings. A sucker is born every minute. Heavy metal will become "classical" music, as it's the only kind of music, aside from some disco, to successfully incorporate full-orchestras as well as operatic vocals alongside the guitars. People will praise Joey DeMaio and Richard Wagner in the same sentence.
11. War and violence. Only a complete eradication of America by nuke strike on all our major population centers, coinciding with a similar attack on our military posts, worldwide, will reduce America to a secondary military power. Until then, we will remain the most powerful nation in history. Thusly, we'll continue to export war wherever and whenever we feel like it. Sometimes it will be a good idea, sometimes it won't. Privately owned weapons will never be banned as long as America exists. Violence will never go away no matter what, though.
12. Government. The problems are largely local. Even in big cites, in which case the localities are vast, but the problems of New York City don't need to involve changing lifestyles in Seattle. Wait a minute, think globally, act locally, right? Sure. If anything's going to be implemented in one fell swoop, you need a united front within a massive, centralized government with a scary national police force. Property rights must cease to exist and all dissent must be silenced. Freedom will literally become another word for nothing left to lose, as everyone else is busy "doing their part." The nimbys of the world, that's "Not in my back yard" people, will be wiped out on a grand scale and probably best used as food. It's not that the state knows better, it's that the state is looking out for its best interest, and that does not include you, you tiny cog in a giant machine! I would hate to live in such a system, wouldn't you? Look at China, are they really that bad? Well, it depends what's more important, the Three Gorges Dam project or the Three Gorges themselves? We're all in this together, aren't we? I personally don't believe one has to surrender one's soul to an all-powerful government machine for anything, though, and I strongly believe the market is the best way to "control" things. But you greedy shits with your damn SUVs and huge cabin cruisers simply need that elbow room, right? Well, you increase the demand for fossil fuels, and prices go up. As long as the American mass affluent class (a brilliant term coined by Ramesh Ponneru in a recent National Review article) can afford to pay without screaming, then bigger, gas-guzzling cars will be produced. Likewise the airplane trips to the ski resorts. Likewise, everything else that Americans consume in enormous quantities. And the trash will continue to mount up until "we" can't stand it any more, and then something might get done about it.
13. No matter what happens, Heavy metal will never die!