Does Science Fiction predict the future?
Updated: Aug 11, 2021
Image for the Movie 2001: Space Oddesy (1968)
Well, the answer is yes and no, and it depends on your version of predictor and the future.
Lets take the easy yes and back it up with a real example – the iPad.
If you look closely in the 1968 classic 2001: A space Odyssey, you will see a Newspad, carrying a headline from the New York times.
It was so close to the product Apple ended up developing, that in 2011, Samsung used the images from the movie to defend itself from a charge of patent violation!
This as an example of inspiration to rather than prediction – Sci Fi showed a vision and someone decided to make it real – in this case Steve Jobs. Hats off to Kubrick and Clarke for the idea and the fantastic prop, and Jobs for breathing life into it. So, yes – Sci Fi predicted the future by providing a blueprint to make it!
Maybe the flip phones were a similar child of the Star Trek (Original) communicator, and possibly the teleporters that are still to come – our effort to make something from an idea that stirred our imagination tangible.
For the prediction, the go to guy is Arthur C. Clarke – I talked about his tablet before. This one is tough – he also predicted remote surgery, the communication satellite, the internet, spam, and network porn. Have a look at his predictions in 1964
Now I might be a cynic, but as he was a specialist in space and communications, and communications were at the heart of his accurate predictions (the one about apes becoming our servants and forming a union was an inaccurate one, and I am not convinced he wasn’t taken out of context),
I still see him as an extrapolator, a really good one who I would probably never bet against.
Now for the hard bit. So far I have written about the technology side of things – iPads, transporters that sort of thing. But what about the changes in society – the utopias (like the Star Trek franchise) where we recognise the best in humanity, the dystopias (like 1984) where society is manipulated but the few using technology, or the parallel worlds (Firefly) where we are somehow a caricature of ourselves.
Does Science Fiction predict that, or is science fiction an inspiration for it?
When I think about the books that have changed society in the long term, I think of the bible, the Koran and the Tora – all texts that have been read and discussed for many centuries and there are band of people who job it is to sell that message.
Books like Mein Kampf have had a temporary impact as well – again with a group of zealots pushing it. The works of Karl Marx and Adam Smith predate Mein Kampf and again each have a group of political leaders shaping society.
Without that political and religious component (which I think L. Ron Hubbard might have been aiming at with his work) that just leaves us Sci Fi writers with nudge theory, where we can plant ideas and nurture them, hoping that we can generate a small, unconscious shift.
That is the approach I have taken in “The Code” to plant and nurture, with a bit of humour, ideas about the some of the issues we need to think about as we interact and evolve the AI’s we have now and in the future. There is some extrapolation as well!