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Things Stanislaw Lem Predicted (culture.pl)
167 points by a_bonobo 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 39 comments

Not to take anything away from Lem, who is one of my favorite science fiction writers and who I absolutely adore, but I was much more impressed by E M Forster's predictions in The Machine Stops[1][2]

Writing in 1909, Forster predicted many things we take for granted today -- the internet, internet addiction and withdrawal, chat rooms, video conferencing, online learning, widespread international air travel.

[1] - http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/prajlich/forster.html

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops

Weirdest one for me: in "The Roads Must Roll" (1940) Heinlein invented the Segway.

"A tumblebug does not give a man dignity, since it is about the size and shape of a kitchen stool, gyro-stabilized on a single wheel. But it is perfectly adapted to patrolling the maze of machinery 'down inside', since it can go through an opening the width of a man's shoulders, is easily controlled and will stand patiently upright, waiting, should its rider dismount."

sounds more like an electric unicycle rather that the original Segway

Thank you so much for introducing me to this work! As a longtime scifi fan it’s wonderful to discover a new author. Amazing story, and from 1909!

Er... This is the 'prediction' for "Google":

>At around the same time, Lem envisaged a future where people have an instant and universal access to a giant virtual data base which he called a ‘Trion Library’. Trions themselves were tiny crystals of quartz, ‘whose particle structure can be permanently changed’. Trions operate like modern pen-drives, but connected by radio waves, forming a giant library of knowledge. This is how he described it in his The Magellanic Cloud from 1955 (our translation):

>Trion can store not only luminescent images, reduced to a change in their crystal structure, that is images of book pages, not only all kinds of photographs, maps, images, graphs and tables – in other words, anything that can be observed by sight. Just as easily, Trion can store sounds, the human voice as well as music, there is also a way to record scents.

Um; this doesn't sound like Google at all. I mean; maybe if this was described as predicting the internet or smart phones, it'd be more reasonable. However, the author follows this description with

>Lem’s description is quite accurate, only that what he describes, we call today the Internet or simply Google.

I'm a bit concerned that an index of a thing has been confused with the thing itself. Is this common? Has anyone else encountered this confusion between Google and the Internet?

Really, it's less like Google, and more like a future where most Internet application data storage occurs against IPFS, and where IPFS's storage pool consists mostly of nodes running on people's smartphones (which have finally gained sufficient capacity for this to be feasible.)

Why does it surprise you that people have no idea how any of this works? Why should they?

You use Google to find out anything you want. It’s how you learn new things and discover knowledge.

You can also upload images and stuf into google and retrieve them later.

Therefore google is for all intents and purposes The Internet.

You will also notice that a lot of people have completely dropped the word internet from their vocabulary. It is now called “wifi” or “data”

Umm. Yes. Most normal people have no idea Google isn’t the internet, I’m guessing.

> Umm. Yes. Most normal people have no idea Google isn’t the internet, I’m guessing.

The same people that think you can only access the web through the Microsoft Internet Explorer :]

And before that, those same people used to walk into computer stores and ask if they could buy an "AOL".

"A Logic Named Joe" actually comes closer to the mark when it comes to predicting problems with modern networked computers and search-engine technology than do Lem's Trions, and predates Lem's story by the better part of a decade.

For a lot of educated people I know, internet = web sites. To which they get into via the browser, which becomes by extension "internet".

They are not wrong, what else is there for a generic user?

Lem is an underrated genius. He explores deep ideas in philosophy of mind, through entertaining and creative thought-experiment-type short stories that are set in the future. He wasn't a futurist per se, but crafted futuristic scenarios specifically to force the reader to question the fundamental nature of consciousness.

Is he underrated?

I have always understood that everyone agrees that he is one of the greatest sci-fi writers ever. His writing and philosophy has depth and he understood the future would be interaction between the society and technology.

Maybe he is underrated in the sense that while he is considered a great, many of his writings are still relatively unknown.

His nonfiction is also remarkable (Golem XIV is technically sci-fi, but it's so philosophically heavy that it can be seen as philosophical work).

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summa_Technologiae

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem_XIV

'The Philosophy of Chance' has not been translated to English.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Philosophy_of_Chance

Philip K Dick underrated him.


Unless you consider it flattery that he told the FBI that "Lem is probably a composite committee rather than an individual".

But the lack of respect was not mutual!

Stanislaw Lem: Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans


That's really interesting, I had no idea they'd intersected in this strange way. Although Dick was likely suffering from mental illness and Lem's critique of him seems like a writer's version of the the not-entirely-uncommon 'great ideas, terrible writing'.

I would never think of Golem XIV as anything other than an SF story - sure, Golem keeps trying to lecture the humans about philosophy but I'd say the larger elements of the story were

- Some Humans fear the AIs (pretty standard Frankenstein situation) and conspire against them

- The conspirators are eliminated as a threat, the narrator tells us they believe Annie did this because Golem would have done something subtle to avoid alerting humans whereas Annie simply considered the conspirators a nuisance and nothing above that - IIRC we're likened to insects, swatted away and, when they persist, crushed.

- With the AIs gone humans go on as if nothing happened, seemingly learning nothing from it at all

All of Imaginary Magnitude and A Perfect Vacuum are awesome in my opinion (I have read them only in translation)

Maybe what the OP meant was, that Lem's works are much less known in the West than in the old good "Eastern Block", though AFAIK he's quite well known in Germany.

People who know him agree that he is one of the greatest sci-fi writers ever, but he's not nearly as well known as Asimov, Clarke or Heinlein.

Solaris is one of the greatest novels I've ever read. The way the planet behaved felt as palpably real as it was mysterious. It made me feel that it's a good thing that the cosmos is more complicated and can't just be divided into what's known and what's not yet known. Thank goodness for the unknowable.

It really was. Lem made a good point about how most scifi treats aliens either as humanoid versions of ourselves, or creatures from our nightmares. After Star Trek Next Generation introduced the Borg, they found they needed to humanize them by having a Borg Queen individual.

The 2002 movie version had Gibarian's recording say that our enthusiasm for exploration is a sham. We're looking for mirrors. The point of Solaris was that the alien was not at all like us, and therefore humans couldn't understand it, because we're too busy projecting onto it. And Solaris used that to create disturbing human analogs, because it didn't understand either.

> Until I used the Internet, I didn’t know there were so many idiots in the world

The whole article was worth reading just for this quote alone

I mean, Poorly Drawn Lines had IMO the best take on that so far: http://www.poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/internet/

It becomes more relevant as the free-for-all we knew and loved slips away.

Of all the recurring themes in Lem's visionary work, extreme body modification is perhaps the one where mankind has least scratched the surface so far. The fashionable tattoos and plastic surgery we have now is so limited in scope, it's like looking at a PDP-10 and trying to predict an iPhone X.

It's a stretch to call some of these "predictions", but .. yes, some of them were reasonably good predictions.

I can wholeheartedly recommend anything Lem wrote; Don't be discouraged if you didn't like the movie adaptations - these books are probably impossible to do justice to in movie form.

One of the greatest sources of those Lem's "predictions" is his Summa Technologiae, which was recently translated into English - https://www.amazon.com/s?search-alias=stripbooks&field-isbn=...

It's from the 60s and contains strikingly good predictions on AI, SETI, Virtual Realities, nanotechnology, multiple universes, the future of our civilization etc.etc.

Also, if you're a fan of R.Kurzweil and others predicting the technological singularity - reading Golem XIV (from 80s.) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem_XIV - is a must.

His earliest works weren't quite on par with the later. He said just as much himself.

This is true of pretty much every author.

Sure, just that "all his works are worth reading" isn't quite true. 'The Man from Mars' or 'The Astronauts' are fairly cringe-worthy. Not that it has stopped me from reading..

What would your top Lem book recommendation be?

Cyberiad is really fun.

Mine would be “the futurologist convention” (or however it was translated to English) - it is rather short, but I found it an extremely fun read, with just enough text and story to support the idea and no fluff. YMMV.

All "serious" stories in Tichy series are worth checking out. The humorous ones are good too, just unsure how much is going to be lost in English translation.

He definitely predicted ridiculous airport security in The Chain of Chance.

But really, the list is meh. It's not about individual technologies. The impressive part is that most of his books have more overall relevance now than when they were written. That is a sign of great science fiction.

For example, he wrote a lot about emergent phenomena of all kinds. Not something I see a lot in American SF of 60s-70s, but as we create more and more complex systems, emergent phenomena (runaway computer viruses, etc) becomes more and more important.

Summa Technologiae (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summa_Technologiae) is an excellent read and stunningly predictive.

These predictions are interesting, but spectacularly off in some respects. For example:

... The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They could be read with the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it.

Predicting the reading tablet without predicting the Internet and wireless networking to feed it seems like a half-prediction.

This does raise an interesting question: which writer from the 1960s had the best track record of predicting the world we now live in?

Clarke's Profiles of the Future was off on a whole lot, but still impressive.

There's a recent book Where is my flying car? with the thesis that old sci-fi visions of the future could've been accurate if not for unnecessary stagnation in key areas like nuclear power. The 70s were the turning point in this view, which I think isn't crazy, though the book was pretty self-indulgent. Reviewed here: http://www.bayesianinvestor.com/blog/index.php/2018/10/14/wh...

And there is more. A lot more. I've read all his books available in Hungarian and I've learnt that:

- The world is over hyped due to cold war. From this grandiosity we should step back to earth.

- Asymmetry is the new world order

- The overall presence of information overflow, the logorrhea of information introduces anarchy

- In arts the next paradigm is reincarnational postmodernims: I’ll reborn to destroy more.

- Emotional over rational.

- Universe is just an illusion: an illegal loan with no cover. The Cosmos exists on an unlimited credit.

- Evolution is non-linear but random.

- The border between natural and artificial will disappear. There will be an electronic brain and soul not distinguishable from the original.

- Information becomes genital, fully sexualised: Everything that would serve humanity turned to be a strangehold of restrictions.

- It is more difficult to distinct truth from fake. Information leads to paranoia.

- Internet has a Marxist / Communist aspect: information & knowledge as individual property goes to service providers, corporations.

- The American Dream is replaced by Virtual Reality.

- Homo sapiens is the latest specie of the natural evolution. We are the latest reliquiae of the uncivilised nature.

... and more: http://metamn.io/gust/whats-next/

Lem is one of my favorite authors!

I worked with Will Wright on The Sims and SimCity, and I think it's more accurate to say that Lem predicted SimCity in "The Seventh Sally" of Cyberiad. Or at least that's what Will says inspired SimCity, long before he developed The Sims, which was just an elaboration of that original inspiration.

But Philip K Dick predicted The Sims in "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch", with its "Pre-Fash Consultants" and "Perky Pat Layouts":


>Layouts are physical props intended to simulate a sort of alternate reality where life is easier than either the grim existence of the colonists in their marginal off-world colonies, or even Earth, where global warming has progressed to the point that Antarctica is prime vacation resort territory. The illegal drug Can-D allows people to "share" their experience of the "Perky Pat" (the name of the main female character in the simulated world) layouts. This "sharing" has caused a pseudo-religious cult or series of cults to grow up around the layouts and the use of the drug.

That describes the cult-like Sims user created content community to a tee: online pre-fash consultants share elaborate downloadable layouts with minned versions of real world objects and architecture, for players to incorporate into their own fantasies:


>Conservation projects of the magnitude you will find here usually requires the contribution of many skilled professionals, vast amount of time and almost unlimited budget. But not in your Sim Neighbourhood! Thanks to The Bunny Wuffles Cultural Heritage Foundation, all you need do is sacrifice some Simoleans, a few moments here at the Foundation and a few MB of your hard drive.


>With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, this theme celebrates the wonders of not only the Palm House, but the Temperate House, Dome and Formal Gardens of Kew in this prestigious time of it gaining World Heritage Status. You can read more about this important event here.


>Another lesson in the practice of moral authority can today be derived from The Sims (Electronic Arts 2002), a computer game in which players create and manipulate families of individuals in an environment that is also designed by the player. If the player fails to endow the characters he or she creates with life skills, they have accidents, fail to eat or drink, and die. Their ability to participate and respond to events in their virtual environment depends on their ability to interpret the phenomena around them. Without being able to understand how what they do affects their world, their behaviour quickly becomes chaotic.

>An antecedent to The Sims occurs in Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Dick 1973). Here the players are linked to each other through taking a drug that enables them to assimilate the roles of the figurines that are used to play the Perky Pat game in a simulated environment. The Perky Pat layout provides an exciting and absorbing alternative reality to the occupationally deprived conditions of the protagonists, whose main motivation in life becomes the pursuit of the game and the accessories linked to it. This dystopia explores a recurrent theme of Dick’s novels, a view of social participation being largely centred on the pursuit of trivia to the extent that it becomes hard for the characters to distinguish what is significant and meaningful in their lives from the fantasies in which they are enmeshed. [...]

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