By David L. Brown
One of the news websites, Fox News (here), today featured excerpts from a number of predictions made 25 years ago by “science thinkers,” predicting conditions in our time of 2012. I recognize the names of most of these “science thinkers” and they are actually “science fiction writers,” but that’s okay because they’re in the business of imagining the future as much as anyone. I’ve always had a passing interest in futurism, the attempt to predict how things will be in future times. In general, these tend to be wildly inaccurate due to the many uncertainties and the phenomenon of straight line thinking. Too often futurists tend to look at what’s been happening recently and simply project a straight line into the future.
Even a cursory look at history will knock enough holes in this procedure to make Swiss cheeses look like solid objects. Imagine the application of straight line thinking to the U.S. economy in the summer of 1929, the likelihood of war in Europe in 1913, the future well-being of the little Roman village of Pompeii in 78 AD (Mount Vesuvius erupted the following year), and so many more examples of unexpected and unpredictable events that dramatically change the future.
One thing that struck me abut these predictions was that they were for the most part pessimistic, in contrast with the usual fol-de-rol about a Jetsons future with flying cars and an abundance of everything. Here are some excerpts with my comments:
Isaac Asimov: “Assuming we haven’t destroyed ourselves in a nuclear war, there will be 8-10 billion of us on this planet and widespread hunger.”
Isaac’s view was fairly accurate, even though he was a little on the low side on population (it’s actually just something over 7 billion). He was dead on about the looming hunger, hastened by this year’s worldwide drought.
Jack Williamson: “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.”
Sheldon Glashow: “The American economy will have experienced a gentle yet relentless decline. Our children will not live such comfortable lives as we do. The spread between the rich and the poor will have grown, and crime will have become so prevalent as to threaten the social fabric. The rich and the poor will form 2 armed camps.”