Predicting the Future
Arthur C. Clarke, one of the greatest science fiction authors, wrote, “A critical reading of science fiction is essential training for anyone wishing to look more than ten years ahead.” One of Clarke’s most famous predictions was geostationary satellites. These are satellites that remain above a fixed point on earth. Today these form an essential part of our modern navigation and communication systems.
A selection of other famous predictions from science fiction include:
- George Orwell, who in 1949 predicted a surveillance state that could monitor the movements of all its citizens. London today has one CCTV camera for every 14 people!
- Edward Bellamy talked of credit cards in his 1888 novel. In the novel, people carried a card through which they spent money in a bank. This was 62 years before the first actual credit card was issued in the US.
- In 1911 Hugo Gernsback wrote about solar power, over 60 years before this became reality
Preparing Our Minds
Not all science fiction is accurate, and much of it is mistaken. However, an important aspect is not always being exactly right but preparing our minds for future possibilities. Author Orson Scott Card writes that “We have to think of [science fiction in a manner such that] if the worst does come, we’ll already know how to live in that universe.”
So, what types of future should we be prepared to tackle?
In Clarke’s book “2001: A Space Odyssey,” an artificial intelligence, the computer Hal 9000, fools two human astronauts into leaving a spaceship and then prevents them from returning. Hal 9000 feels no remorse in trying to sacrifice the lives of human beings. With our rapidly advancing hardware and software, we may be at or soon will go over the technological “singularity.” This is when a genuinely independent artificial technology is created. Once this happens, how will we protect ourselves from its whims?
In Isaac Asimov’s Robot books, he creates a society on a planet called Solaria. The inhabitants do not meet each other physically. This prevents the spread of disease, and all the hard work is undertaken by robots. While we are far away from this scenario – our present COVID-related “stay at home” measures meant that we could not physically meet our friends and loved ones. We attend meetings through WhatsApp video and zoom. In Asimov’s story, such a society eventually decays and dies. How important it is for us to get back to real meetings and hugs!
Preserve Not Destroy
Perhaps the best science fiction lesson we might take is from Star Trek. The crew of Star Trek has to follow the Prime Directive (also known as the “non-interference directive”). This states:
“As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. This directive carries with it the highest moral obligation.”
Perhaps we might implement this with all other life on earth. We interfere and destroy too much of the natural world. We should let our fellow life forms and indeed all other peoples live peacefully.
I end with two quotes from characters in Star Trek’s science fiction universe.
“Live long and prosper,” says Spock, the half-human.
“Compassion: that’s the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps humans ahead of them,” states Dr. McCoy.