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1987 Time Capsule Predictions by Sci-Fi Writers About 2012 (writersofthefuture.com)
250 points by joshuahedlund on July 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 141 comments



By far the most accurate:

DAVE WOLVERTON

In 2012 We will see:

1) That economic cycles caused by rises in technological levels will begin to level out—countries that have a falsely inflated economy will be forced to export their technologies to third-world countries where people are willing to work for less money. This will lead to a situation where knowledge, the key to our technologic success, will be spread across the world. We'll see rapid decreases in starvation levels, but will still be plagued with political turmoil.

2) Men's Rights—We will see a reaction to the women's movement. Men will demand to be portrayed by the media as the sensitive, caring creatures that they are. They will also demand equal rights in custody battles where children are seldom awarded to a father because our society chooses to believe a mother is a better care-taker by nature.

3) Introduction of x-ray microscopes in the early 2000's will lead to rapid progress in gene splicing. Look for rapid growth in medicine and mining, and food production. We may also see bacteria being engineered to simulate parts of the immune system (which could cure immune disorders such as AIDS and allergies).


I wouldn't say that (1) is very correct. Economic cycles are worse than ever because the same mistakes keep getting made. But the part about exporting work to third-world countries and less starvation is dead-on.


I'd say that you are doing exactly what many of the submissions did in 87 with regards to the AIDS pandemic - taking something at the top of its influence curve and incorrectly assuming that to only be the beginning of said curve.

In essence, overstating a trend because you are in the middle of participating in it.

There is nothing overly dramatic about this economic cycle than any other down cycle. It's certainly nowhere close to previous cycles.


(1) is partially false. The cycles are not leveling up but being amplified. Outsourcing is close, though. But this trend actually seems to be much less popular now than before, especially with raising wages overseas.

(2) is marginally true - man's rights movements exist, but considered fringe by majority. I also suspect this one has something to do with Wolverton's personal history, which is not really a good place to discuss.

(3) No curing of any disorders by genetically engineered bacteria so far, AFAIK. Also I'm not sure how bacteria would help curing AIDS caused by retrovirus, anyway.


GREGORY BENFORD also starts eerily similar to what we are seeing today, but then starts with the classic futurology stuff of the time (bases on the Moon, trip to Mars, mass starvation) that didn't happen.


The second point is technically accurate – but does it really count if it’s a delusional movement by a few crazies that is in no way comparable to to the women’s movement and mostly based on a completely weird worldview (all the while many of the legitimate goals of the women’s movement are far from reached)?


Feminists were also branded as delusional mentally ill people when they started fighting for their rights. Your comment shows exactly why these movements need to exist and the prejudices they have to overcome. Are men fighting for basic access to their children in a biased legal system "crazies"? What about those trying to tackle the massive problem of young men committing suicide? What about those campaigning to give boys the same protection from genital mutilation as girls? Every movement has radicals and unfortunately they tend to be the loudest. Consider the running controversy over anti-transgender feminist groups (eg. [1]). They're loud, get lots of attention but hardly represent the majority.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/25/radical-...


All MRAs I’ve ever heard were downright weird in their worldview. There are some problems worth fighting for (nothing comparable with what women faced and still face), sure, but that doesn’t seem to be their focus. Their focus seems to be demonizing feminists and derailing. (Let’s quickly talk about custody: feminists and MRAs could actually be marching in exactly the same direction: The root cause of the problem are strict gender roles, women are for taking care of children, men are for working. But no, feminists are to blame. MRAs also love using warped statistics, but that is very much besides the point. There is no reasonableness in that movement.)

The text implies that some sort of MR movement would spring up as a widespread reaction to feminism (and it doesn’t have any comparable issues to fight for, it doesn’t have the numbers, it doesn’t have the intellectual depth nor the academic backbone). It did spring up as a tiny reaction to feminism. Wikipedia tells me that the movement has its roots in the 1970s, so it’s not like this would have been something completely new in 1987. It’s hard to say, but I see no reason to believe that the MR movement is that much bigger than it was in 1987. And it still defines itself as a reaction to feminism. Which makes about zero sense. All the issues they are fighting for were not caused by feminism. Far from it. Many feminists will be perfectly capable of recognizing them as valid problems. (But, again, that’s very much besides the point.)


Feminism has a long and storied history, to which its "intellectual depth" and "academic backbone" has, and continues to be, largely irrelevant. It is not monolithic, and represents a diversity of views unified only by the idea that women should stand up for themselves. The modern custody situation, which admittedly has become more nuanced since the 1980s, is at least partly a result of strains of feminism that embraced motherhood.

While I can agree that, at present, many of the "MRA" seem like "weirdos" tilting at windmills, there is nothing inherently wrong with having strong advocates on both sides of a discussion.


It's not two sides, though. That makes no sense. The issues MRAs are campaigning for are not issues feminists are campaigning against.


If I were to guess, I'd guess that the attitude results from conflicts with other crazies. There are still a lot of feminists who demonize men and derail, for example, and the MRAs have to confront them instead of ignoring them. Those sorts of discussions result in paradigm shifts in many people.


Agreed. There have been some men's rights groups but they are now a minority. I don't know about child care, but men are starting to be shown on media as caring people with emotions (e.g. Brokeback mountain won an Oscar and that's about 2 men who fall in love). I don't think the MRA's are responsible for that, since they mostly campaign against various policies put in help women (rather than campaign for sensitive men).


I'd love to hear what Dave predicts for 2037! I'm gonna try to contact him...


Dont forget to blog about it


Fears of War, Population Explosion, American Decline, and Japanese Ascension with some anti-Reagan sentiment mixed in. Pretty much a lesson in what pop-culture fear look like in 1987, and every one of them turned out to be a non-issue.

This ought to give one pause and great skepticism when evaluating today's pop-culture fears. Of course, just because an idiot picks (c) on an SAT question doesn't mean it's wrong.


Yeah, but whose to say that the prevalence of those fears didn't have a hand in making them a non-issue?

What else but a fear of war motivates us to avoid it? Would China have instituted its one-child policy without a fear of population explosion, a policy which arguably is one of the most important factors in its rapid rise (as compared to India, for instance)? Perhaps the seeming inevitability of Japan's dominance made them complacent while simultaneously stripping American's of theirs?


>which arguably is one of the most important factors in its rapid rise

There is debate over the actual effectiveness of the policy. The really optimistic numbers seem to come straight fromt the Chinese government, and there are a lot of people who disagree with them.

Additionally they are going to have a huge demographic problem as the one child generation ages. I was just reading an economist article that said estimates are that over 1/3 of Shanghai will be over 60 by 2020, and by 2050 the median age in China will be 49.


Instead of investing in building family Chinese invest in building career + retirement fund?


Now the only thing they need is to institute western-like welfare state system where people have very low private savings rate and rely almost completely on pay-as-you-go defined benefits global pension funds - and they'd be left very surprised and wondering what hit them so hard when everything was going so good just so short time ago.


Group-think and reality tunnels apparent throughout.

If someone thinks we aren't doing the same thing, they're insane.


Precisely. Pop culture is made to be vacuous, ephemeral, and cyclic. Unfortunately, there are scores of people who eat it up because it's pushed to them. Worse, there are lots of institutions who make a killing off of giving people exactly what they say they want.

The success doesn't bother me; the pandering does.


> If someone thinks we aren't doing the same thing, they're insane.

For varying values of we, anyway. Every generation seems to have its crisis/moral panic du jour. Only a minority ever seems to take a moderate, pragmatic view, and expect neither utopia nor dystopia.


> expect neither utopia nor dystopia.

Maybe the old utopia is the new mundane?

Infant mortality near zero, lifespan 80 years, global communication and travel, almost no hunger or war.

Wouldn't that be considered utopia 100 years ago?

Those are for the West, but the rest of the world is rapidly catching up, too.


The lesson here is "don't ask sci-fi writers to predict the future."

Seriously, these guys are doing what we all do: making some kind of linear estimate based on past data. Usually these estimates end in some sort of crisis. No, we are not out of oil. It's debatable whether we've even reached peak oil, which I doubt. The U.S. has a shot at becoming a major oil exporter if we don't screw it up. No, hunger and disease are no more widespread and rampant than they were then. If anything, things have probably gotten a little better. No, we are not colonizing the moon or Mars. Our space program is still barely getting started. No, everybody isn't an illiterate slob watching CGI dramas, but that day still seems to be fast approaching, at least for the western world.

The internet really took the species on a hard turn from where we all thought we were going. Even idea of a hive mind where billions vegetate using computer stimulus wasn't considered. Everybody thought that the individual would stay the same and technology would evolve around them. What's happened is much more interesting: the idea of the unique individual is changing as more of the things that make us unique are being recorded and shared. Technology is not transforming the world; technology is transforming us.

ADD: An interesting title to this article might be "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."


Well, I had the opposite conclusion. Lots of the linear estimates were more or less right, and the ones that were wildly wrong were not linear enough.

Like, here's a wildly wrong one: "Probate and copyright law will be entirely restructured by 2012 because people will be frozen at death, and there will be electronic means of consulting them. Many attorneys will specialize in advocacy for the dead." What is this guy anticipating? He's anticipating that biocomputing will explode up from approximately 0 to the level where we blur the line between life and death.

What about "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"? The author has totally neglected the idea that perhaps future presidents would create debts, pollution, ignorance, and war at scales which just blow those original scales out of the water, so as to seem irrelevant by comparison. Instead he predicts a total reversal of human nature, expressed in a "faith that you have saved yourselves".

If they've shown sci-fi bias towards computers, that has actually to some extent held up; if they've shown sci-fi bias towards space, that has not. The slow-and-incremental predictions are not so bad.


The intriuging thing about the JACK WILLIAMSON quote is that his apology from 1987 sounds like something one might write today for an audience in 2047. He didn't predict the future; he (quite accidentally) predicted that which continues to plague the contemporary psyche.


Actually, the situation with pollution became much better, though situation with debts became much worse, while the situation with ignorance and wars is about the same, minus the possibility of global nuclear war due to Cold War being won by the West. BTW, in 1987 the collapse of USSR or at least great diminishing of its global power was already predictable - the reforms which eventually led to it started in 1985 - but I don't think any of the authors saw it, otherwise they'd probably mentioned it, it's a huge event that influenced a real lot of things, economically, politically and technologically.


My elementary school included a class that put a time capsule together during the 1968-1969 school year, with pupil predictions of the year 2001. In the year 2001, the time capsule was opened up. We were quite concerned about air pollution and, wouldn't you know, running out of petroleum, and both turned out to be less of a problem than we anticipated. I expected more progress in the United States in "race" relations than there actually has been, but it is a fact that the United States is experiencing an ongoing reduction of "race" consciousness that is hard to imagine to people who remember the days of legal segregation by state law.

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/14635780-post3.html

I was interested to see that another page on the site hosting the submitted article has a description of the late L. Ron Hubbard

http://www.writersofthefuture.com/lrhbio

that perhaps needs some fact-checking.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Ron_Hubbard

http://www.villagevoice.com/related/to/L.+Ron+Hubbard/

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2012/07/25/bay-area-great-g...


Writers Of The Future is a Hubbard thing. He originated it. So it's not surprising it has a more favorable view of him than other sources...


The site looks like 100% Scientóogy propaganda. I know this may sound paranoic, but you can really recognize it by the home page and the way it's written.


I know, right? Reminds me of this: http://www.thrivemovement.com/


+1


Race relations are progressing but by no means fixed, but I'm sure you'd get quite the surprised reaction if you went back and told people the president was black.


A round of applause for the Clean Air Act!


2037

Some promising technologies will still be struggling along in 2037. Others have disappeared or been replaced completely. No matter how miraculous and marvelous the advances that have happened though, society will have managed to consider them mundane and probably inevitable. I don't know what quantum computers and machine learning will have allowed by 2037- (better weather prediction? deep mathematical truths?), but I suspect that the things people think about the most, like how to have meaningful relationships and fulfilling work, will have only been minimally affected. On the other hand, I predict that some people thinking about those things now will have found, individually, exactly what they were looking for.

Each generation will be less mature (at least until it reaches the same age as the last). Each new generation (there will have been a couple by 2037) will, despite its immaturity, regressiveness, and destructiveness, manage to yield forth individuals who inspire and transform, who rise above petty concerns and a world brimming with distraction and reveal something new about the capacity of mankind.

In short, the fundamental struggle will continue between technology that exalts our knowledge and capacity, and human nature that debases and waste them.

Existential threats to mankind will still occasionally surface. The threat of genocide, tyrants who oppress and reign in terror, the Earth groaning under its abuse as we attempt to listen better, to act better. But, as always there will be pockets of peace and prosperity where others can sit and take a moment to write an entry for 2062.


2037 - A large number of twenty something 2012 era Hacker News readers who thought they would have had their FU money years ago will find themselves working on fixing "Year 2038" time bugs in 25 year old PHP projects to pay their mortgages.


For those taking this seriously: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forer_effect


kind of. They are obviously vague predictions, which is kind of a cop-out / cheating. But after reading how silly all the specific predictions seemed, even when correct, I got to thinking about things with a strong historical precedence- things that would likely remain true. The language used makes it sound kind of like the platitudes you would see in Barnum statements, but those lead to the Forer effect because some number of them _do_ apply to lots of people (leading people to confirmation bias and to assigning some weight to a non-existent authority). I hope that the imprecision in my predictions make them boring and obvious because they're true for the majority of 25-year spans in recorded history, not because they pretend to be tailored specifically toward individuals reading or toward this coming 25 years.


Be sure to print it out and put it in some sort of capsule though. It'll get lost in this HN thread and it's always fun to read back such things 25y later :)


Bravo! I believe that's as accurate a prediction you could make. As soon as you dive into specific issues, such predicting what will happen with China, virtual reality, space exploration etc, you'll have a much better chance of success if you predict status quo, or nothing at all. You hit on something though. We won't have "real" AI in 2037, but believe we're in the midst of a machine learning and computer vision revolution. Self driving cars should be possible in 25 years, technically. Whether there will be legal issues or not I can't guess.


Each generation will be more mature by the time they reach the same age. It's been so for ages and that trend would continue.

AI would advance a lot. Virtual reality would be a commonplace.

Population would keep slowly rising (due to natural selection).

World would be even more peaceful than it is today. No existential threats to mankind in the next 25 years.


> AI would advance a lot.

But we'll still be adamant that it's not "real" AI.


By 2037 WW III will have happened. My guess is that it won't be an all out single epic battle but a dissolved multitude of tiny conflicts dragging out for years and sapping the economy and living standards all over world (including the developed countries).


2037: Brain will have conquered the world.


Some of these are very salient (Pohl), and some not so.

Brilliant points (Orson Scott Card):

> We must count ourselves lucky if anyone has leisure enough in 2012 to open this time capsule and care what is inside. In 2012 Americans will see the collapse of Imperial America, the Pax Americana, as having ended with our loss of national will and national selflessness in the 1970s. Worldwide economic collapse will have cost America its dominant world role; but it will not result in Russian hegemony; their economy is too dependent on the world economy to maintain an irresistible military force. ...

And this one by Roger Zelazny, pretty spot on until...

> It is good to see that a cashless, checkless society has just about come to pass, that automation has transformed offices and robotics manufacturing in mainly beneficial ways, including telecommuting, that defense spending has finally slowed for a few of the right reasons,

I stopped reading at "defense spending has finally slowed"... no one could have predicted George W. Bush I guess

This one is almost completely opposite:

>Multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease will be effectively cured. However, AIDS will not yet have been controlled. It will have become the leading cause of death worldwide with millions of new cases each year.


Even including the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the defense spending is a much lower percentage of GDP than it was in 1987.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/more-on-defense/


Not predicted Bush? Not predicted 9/11, more like. Which is strange too: one of my first impressions of the US was how vulnerable the country was. (Resilient too, but that was not surprising.)


9/11 was a bee sting. Bush is the one that instituted the subsequent anaphylactic shock.


This has nothing to do with Bush specifically - virtually no policies linked to 9/11 were reversed since the end of Bush presidency, and some actually became worse (e.g. TSA). 9/11 raised the level of public concern with terrorist threats (real or imagined) so pretty much anybody would follow the pass of the least resistance and do roughly the same. Doing otherwise would require extraordinary vision and extraordinary power of persuasion to sell it, which none of the current politicians possesses.


I doubt any other President would have done much different.


Zelazny did get ebooks right though.


"Because we will be in a trough between 20th-century resources and 21st-century needs, in 2012 all storable forms of energy will be expensive. Machines will be designed to use only minimal amounts of it. At the same time, there will be a general expectation that a practical cheap-energy delivery system is just around the corner. Individuals basing their career plans on any aspect of technology will concentrate on that future, leaving contemporary machine applications to the less ambitious or to those who foresee a different future. The most socially approved-of individuals will constitute a narrowly focused aristocracy, and will be at the mercy of dull functionaries and secretive rebels who actually perform the day-to-day maintenance of society. It should be noted that most minimal-energy devices process information and microscopic materials, not consumer goods. The function of "our" society may depend on processing information and biotechnology to subjugate goods-producing societies. These societies may be geographically external, or may be yet another social stratum within central North America. In either case, crowd-management technologies will have to turn away from forms that might in any way impair capital goods production. Social regimentation will then have become so deft that most people will regard any other social milieu as pitiable.  "

Most were quaintly charming, but that was right on. I'm surprised that fewer authors mentioned the information revolution as being a large force in society.


Portable energy isn't particularly expensive.

The cheap labor in Asia isn't particularly subjugated (and Western nations produce more material goods in absolute terms, never mind U.S. agriculture).

What's left?


Portable energy is extremely expensive. The Tesla Roadster's battery pack costs upwards of $30k and weighs half a ton. Lithium AA batteries cost ~$400-500 per kW.


A gallon of gasoline costs ~$3.50 and weighs a few pounds.


By unit weight, hydrogen is the highest density chemical fuel source, though its low mass/volume density means that per unit of storage volume it rates poorly.

LNG is next by weight (though well down the curve). Coal fares rather worse than I would have thought, though it may win on energy/volume.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c6/En...

Energy densities of various storage media / methods: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders_of_magnitude_(specific_...

And more energy densities: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energies_per_unit_mass#Common_...

A kilogram of uranium has roughly 20 million times the energy of a kilogram of gasoline. Which has roughly 25 times the energy storage of a kilogram of LiON batteries (and just ekes out kerosene/diesel as well). TNT and gunpowder have surprisingly low energy densities -- it's not their storage capacity, but release rates which give them value (it's also why planes loaded with jet fuel are more effective attack vectors against skyscrapers than missiles loaded with explosives, at least on a total net energy delivery basis).


And for the curious: contains 36 kWh.


Or, to be more precise, when burned in a modern car engine, produces 36kWh. If I pop it into my handy iMatterToEnergy(tm), I get substantially more...


If you had that, you could produce energy directly from air, or from waste, or from whatever. The point of gasoline is that the energy is cheaply extractable by chemical means (which means it does not require extraordinary energy levels to unlock and very expensive machines and protections to operate).


Diesel is slightly more efficient too, though I believe it's the most efficient current fuel (energy per volume).


That's about 20 times what coal costs per equivalent energy. There both carbon based fossil fuels, one's just portable.


> Western nations produce more material goods in absolute terms

This is a pretty vague statement. Which western nations? Which asian nations? Which material goods? In absolute terms of what? Measured at what point?

I'm not saying anything in particular, but can you provide a source so we can see the meaning behind it?


Does it help if I clarify that I meant that Western nations have increased their production of material goods (rather than ceasing it, like is implied in the prediction)? I do see that the way I worded it looks like maybe I was making a comparison to Asia.

I don't think it is controversial that U.S. manufacturing output has grown.


I'm surprised that fewer authors mentioned the information revolution as being a large force in society.

You can probably conclude that no-one predicted the information revolution. (What people didn't predict or mention is often the most interesting part of past future predictions.)


I find it curious that more than one of them predicted a decrease in literacy. Indeed, the opposite seems to have happened.

When I was in college, my English professor vowed that he would make us better writers by forcing us to write an essay every single night. And it really worked.

Yet we live in a world where people are writing, constantly writing, in a way my English teacher could barely have dreamed of. High school kids, debating endlessly with a hostile audience every day, are turning into frighteningly persuasive writers all on their own.


People thought that TV & radio would take off, both media that don't require literacy to use/consume/watch. However the internet means everone has to read AND write in order to interact. People have to be able to string words together. People have to be able to write to have friendly.

Computers have probably done lots for literacy.

You can see it a little bit now when much older people who don't use computers a lot, write things. They aren't very literate, probably because they haven't written as much as young people have.


The issue here is that the population is very different. Some of the worst schools literally graduated people that were unable to read their own diplomas. Some give great education. I'd say literacy did not decrease, and access to information greatly improved. But if you wanted, you also could find a lot of illiterate people and a lot of ignoramuses, I would even argue it is easier to be an ignoramus now than before.

I can see however where that came from - with the rise of the TV culture and not seeing the following rise of the internet and global information connectedness brought by it - you can easily decide that the future is couch potatoes watching TV, not couch potatoes reading blogs and writing comments :)


High school kids, debating endlessly with a hostile audience every day, are turning into frighteningly persuasive writers all on their own.

u jelly brah?


This is wonderful. Their confident pessimism brightens my day :)


I was surprised at how pessimistic they were. Did the future really look that bleak 25 years ago?


You mean it doesn't now ? :-) Only half joking. It is easier to see what could happen that would be bad, and believe it will come to pass, than it is to see something that is going to make everything good. That said, there were a number of very hopeful letters in there too.

In 1987 none of these writers had any real insight into the changes the Internet would bring. "The World is Flat" [1] wouldn't come out for nearly 20 years. Although engineers were getting a pretty good grasp of what would be different 10 years later in '97. I clearly remember showing my parents Java when they came to visit at Christmas in 1994 and they thought it was 'interesting' but really didn't believe that everyone in the world would be affected by it. The next year (Christmas '95) and at my sister's house in Utah I pointed out a web site on a car ad and asked her if she knew what it was. Nope, I told her that soon it would be the only way to get information on anything. She didn't believe me.

We've not made nearly the strides in delivered medicine that we might have, that is in part due to regulatory delays, although mechanical things (titanium inserts, replacement joins, heart valves, etc) did quite well.

And world politics were clearly difficult to predict. I too saw the juggernaut of Japanese manufacturing excellence and thought "Gee, if we don't get our game on we're dead meat!" but never ever imagined a world with web sites like Global Sources [2] where you fill out a form, wire some money, and have a Chinese factory working on widgets for you before the end of the week.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/The-World-Is-Flat-Twenty-first/dp/0374...

[2] http://www.globalsources.com/?WT.mc_id=1001007&WT.srch=1...


The rise and plateau of the Japanese economy is one of the most interesting case studies on macroeconomics I've come across. There's a great review of it in "New Ideas from Dead Economists" [1].

It's fascinating to look into why the "inevitable," didn't come to pass. Likewise with many of the doomsday predictions we see here, the pivots that prevented many from occurring (arguably, fall of the USSR, massive public health efforts, sheer luck)are sweet spots in history. It'd be interesting to do some kind of meta-analysis of future predictions and these little events that seemingly held back the fates. I can almost groan about trying to assess the qualitative data now...

[1] http://www.amazon.com/New-Ideas-Dead-Economists-Introduction...


The threat of nuclear conflict was very real during the Cold War. I remember my teacher asking the class (in 1984) who thought that a nuclear war was "likely in the next 10 years" and virtually every hand going up. Some teenage angst there perhaps, but it was as high in the collective conscious then as climate change is now.


People tend to forget how close we came to all out nuclear war on at least two occasions (Cuban Missile Crisis and Able Archer 83) and that there were military leaders in the west in the 50s and 60s who actually wanted to initiate a first strike.


1987 is towards the end of the war though. Arguably, in 1987 the USSR was already in the process of collapse. The last attempt of saving it - Perestroika - was initiated in the same year, due to obvious and catastrophic systemic economic problems, and failed miserably very soon. By 1989 the international power of USSR was largely gone, and in another 2 years, USSR was no more. While in 1984 the concern may be very real, in 1987 more people should have seen where it's going. Not many did so.


I was lucky enough to grow up a few miles from an Air Force Base. When we did the "duck and cover" training thing, our science teacher told us it wouldn't matter because we'd turn to ash almost instantly anyway.

Recently there was mention of a poll of evangelical Christians and some large percentage thought the rapture would happen in their lifetime.

Honestly, that's pretty much literally the same psychology at work as those who believed in impending nuclear holocaust then and imminent climate doom now.


There's been a bunch of mini-dooms along the way as well, everything from y2k causing planes to drop from the sky to terrorists attacking cities more frequently.

I think it's in peoples nature to mentally take trend lines straight up, or even exponentially up. So, if there were x nuclear warheads in 1987, then they assumed it would be 100 * x in 2012.

The same pattern is at work with the climate now, as you've pointed out. Those who speak of the largest catastrophes get the most airtime, and it's a self-reinforcing cycle. Any room full of teenagers will inevitably predict the world will be uninhabitable by their 40th birthday, when in reality it will probably be much the same.


That's true, I completely forgot about the Cold War. I grew up in the 90s, so I guess I'm lucky to have never had that looming over my head.


It's human nature to see the future in a bleak manner. I don't know why this is - it obviously leads to doomsday cults.

Perhaps it's an ego thing - people can't believe that they aren't the crowning generation of the human race. They want to believe that their life is as good as anyones will get, because future people just won't be as fortunate/gifted/special as they are.

The truth of the matter is that each generation has led a better quality of life than the last for a long time going back. This is both technology related but also, as slow as it happens, lessons do get learned.

It's funny to see all the doom and gloom about resources running out, when that's no closer now than it was in 1987. This should be a lesson for the rank pessimists around us now.

It's actually very difficult to predict the future, because of unexpected events that change history. Everyone in this group thinks Japan is going to take over the world - they were 2 years away from the bursting of their bubble, which has never re-inflated. They also think that Russia is going to continue to be the foe, when itself was only 3 or so years away from falling apart as the USSR. Nobody could see the rise of Islamic terrorism and the massive pivot that it would create.


> It's human nature to see the future in a bleak manner. I don't know why this is.

I got a different impression - they were either very pessimistic about the future, or unrealistically optimistic. Either a dystopia or a utopia. I suspect that this is because both of these viewpoints were interesting. The most boring viewpoint would be mediocrity, especially to science fiction writers. Yet, mediocrity is probably the best bet for the future. Some things will get better, others worse, human nature will stay the same as it's always been, and barring catastrophes like worldwide nuclear war, life will go on.


I think humans usually tend to be a lot more pessimistic about the future than it will really be.


This one stood out for me:

"Japan will be the central economic power in the world, owning or controlling a significant part of European and American industries. This "economic dictatorship" will be beneficial to Japan's client states, since Japan benefits by keeping its customers healthy and wealthy. Indeed, a peaceful and prosperous world community will owe its existence to this Pax Japanica." --SHELDON GLASHOW

Replace Japan with China and he's spot on. The idea has also been given the name "Chimerica" by some economists [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimerica].


You're more right than you know. Many people thought that Japan was going to be the global economic hegemon. This was based entirely on the pace of their economic growth over about two decades combined with some odd quirks of international finance. But as it turned out that prediction was off, by a lot. Today Japan is still strong but their economy is troubled and nobody thinks that they are poised to control the world. And now we see people making similar predictions about China. Again based on a short period of economic growth combined with some odd quirks of international finance. But it's no more true this time than last. China has some very fundamental, deep seated flaws in its governance, society, economy, and industry. And it's likely that those flaws will become more apparent and become more of a drag on Chinese economic growth as the country gets wealthier and more modern.


China has indeed replaced Japan as the bogeyman in our tales of decline, but does not Santayana have something to say about how this tale ends?


Outside of the US, demand from China is mostly seen as a kind of saviour, bringing with it huge economic development, e.g. especially in Africa, Brazil and Australia.


> Replace Japan with China and he's spot on.

...except for the prosperous and peaceful part, right? And oh yeah...everything else?

I think you will find yourself just as wrong about China as Glashow was about Japan.


...except for the prosperous and peaceful part, right?

Prosperous: clearly people in Asia & Africa are much, much more prosperous than in 1987.

In the developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 24 per cent in 2008. [snip] The number of extreme poor in the developing regions fell from over 2 billion in 1990 to less than 1.4 billion in 2008.[1]

Even in the US and Europe income per person has grown substantially since 1987[2]. Don't let the current economic problems overshadow longer-term trends.

Peaceful: If you live outside central Africa the last 25 years haven't been bad. In 1987 Iraq was at the end of the Iran/Iraq war and Afghanistan was in the middle of attempting to expel an invading superpower. Not much change there.

Of course, the various central African wars have been a complete disaster - only WW1 & WW2 have been comparable.

OTOH, there hasn't been a nuclear war, which was what people expected in 1987.

[1] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/mdg_goa...

[2] http://www.bit.ly/SWICYq (Sorry about the short URL - it goes to a Flash Gapminder page)


Good points, but I would argue that there is a vast difference between being raised out of extreme poverty and being "prosperous". Also, be careful with top line income stats for the US and Europe, they just don't reflect conditions on the ground.

As for peaceful, Glashow's reference to a Pax Japanica implies that, at least within its economically-annexed countries, there would be genuine peace over and above what he observed in 1987. Since the establishing event didn't happen, I guess it doesn't make sense to analyze the effects...but I'll grant you that for several years between 1987 and now, the international rhetoric among nations with large standing armies has cooled.

But this isn't the Golden Age of anything, certainly not Japan.

Regarding the OP, China has nothing to do with any of it. Their assertions of economic influence in Africa and South America are just a shift in patron and beneficiaries from the old world order. Great for some countries (at least in the short term), less so for others.


> Replace Japan with China and he's spot on.

Is he? I don't know of many Chinese companies that own stakes in American or European industry - maybe Lenovo counts to some extent, but what others?

It seems that the sources of China's capital and the markets for the resulting industry are almost entirely Western, and primarily American. China's fate is far more determined by American investors and consumers than the reverse.

China's government scrambles to buy dollars to keep the RMB artificially weak against the dollar so this pattern can be sustained for a while longer. But how long can that last?


I'm not sure to the overall level, but it is increasing - looking to top $8bn of direct investment in the US this year... http://money.cnn.com/2012/07/25/investing/china-investing-us...

Speaking from Australia, China made $9.9bn investment last year, also growing... http://blogs.wsj.com/dealjournalaustralia/2011/12/30/chinese... - here they are generally looking to up their stake in mining/energy companies. I think its much the same in Canada as well.


The investment share of GDP for the US was 12% in 2010 according to https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/... and I would expect it hasn't moved much since.

US GDP is about $15 trillion/yr right now.

So the $8bn of direct investment you mention is about 0.4% of the investment that happened in the US last year.

A far cry from "owning or controlling a significant part of European and American industries". ;)

Oh, and the $10bn investment into Australia, which has "only" 27% * $1.5e12 = $405bn of investment yearly, is about 2.5% of yearly Australian investment. At that rate you _could_ get to "significant" in several years, if the economy doesn't also grow at several % a year....

(For further comparison, the EU gdp is about 17tn/year and investment is almost 19% of that, so figure about 2.9tn/year.)


Thanks for the info - interesting stuff. The overall investment is a lot lower overall than I thought it would be.

On the topic of Australia, the effect of China's demand for resources can't be understated - they are the main reason there's currently a mining boom here; without them we would probably be stuck in 0-1% growth. As it is we are at 3% GDP growth per annum.


Right. Australia's fundamental "problem" vis-a-vis China is that China has about 70x the population. Which means that even at much lower per-capita income China has a lot of money to throw around compared to the size of the Australian economy...


Frederik Pohl's essay is great. By 1987, he had been writing science fiction for nearly 50 years and I think had become embittered by the course of 20th century history. Read Gateway (which I think came out that same year) to see his vision of 21st century Earth -- humanity lives on an overpolluted planet, with only a tiny portion of the population able to have access to "Full Medical" and live in clean, domed cities.

He's still alive, incidentally. And has turned to blogging: http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/


"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. Most automobiles and heavy machinery will be manufactured in Japanese owned planets located in America. Yet, agriculture and higher education will be our most successful exports. There will be no fast trains connecting American cities, but a network of levitated superconducting trains will be under construction in Western Europe and in Japan." - Sheldon Glashow

This was the most stunning part of the predictions as it's far more negative than what truly is the case, yet points to many truths and is what many could say about the next 25 years.


> I would also like to take this opportunity to plug my new book, to be published in both computerized and printed versions in time for 2012 Christmas sales—but I've not yet decided on its proper title. Grandchildren of Amber sounds at this point a little clumsy, but may have to serve.

Oh how I wish this was the case...


Gregory Benford's notes are perhaps the most interesting, given his present position on the board of Genescient - a company that mines the genetics of longevity:

http://www.genescient.com/about/board-of-directors/#gbenford

Interesting for the pessimism, that is. Every age and sub-age and decade and year, and so on down, has its seeping pessimism - yet here we are, still.

Humans are good at foreseeing, identifying, and solving problems. Yet despite the vast evidence of that trait at work in our history, recent and otherwise, our capacity for progress and success is greatly underrated in every present day in comparison to our capacity to build problems.


Pessimism is helpful when it motivates us towards the right types of change: those that better humanity as a whole.

Optimism can have its day when we've moved past our tribalistic, petty natures. Until then, we have work to do.


Necessity is the mother of invention. Fear is its maternal grandfather.


And you should bring him a bottle.

To be exact, we are still not good at predicting WHAT solution to those problems will appear. That's why optimistic entries are largely incorrect (to my standard).


When I was a kid I bought a paperback copy of The People's Almanac: The Book of Predictions[1]. The book is mostly wacky, but over the decades I would thumb through it from time to time and catch something that someone got right, although mostly by accident. The psychics that were interviewed were way off. The scientists? They did a lot better. It's a fun read if you can find a copy.

[1] (http://books.google.com/books/about/The_People_s_Almanac_Pre...)


Most Americans are barely literate, think in images rather than symbols, and think the future is something that will happen to somebody else…

Right on the money.


You left out the "just as today…" which rather changes the tone.


Nah, just making it shorter and easier to parse.


Doom! Gloom! Disaster Just Around The Corner!

How depressing. Not just the worlds they paint, but that some of the brightest minds were (and are) trapped into such a negative way of looking at the future.


In 1987 the cold war was still going strong, and the threat of Mutually-Assured Destruction was palpably felt. The industrialised world was divided into two sides and it affected politics quite powerfully. In 1987 there weren't the public glimmerings of the fall of communism - the Berlin Wall was torn down in '89.

Since the fall of communism ended the two-superpower cold war, industrialised nations simply don't feel the threat of being sucked into a massively destructive third world war.

Don't forget also that many of those minds write about things happening in a post-apocalptic timeframe :)


waterlesscloud was probably a child or not born yet, so we who were alive and old enough back then sound just as weird as the World War and Great Depression generations sounded to us. S/he will be in the same boat 15-25 years from now :)


I was 19 in 1987. :-)

Old enough to be aware of the voices of Gloom and Doom even then.

There's always an excuse to believe in them. And there's always a choice to see it otherwise.


Science Fiction writers != some of the brightest minds.


TL;DR - By 2012 we'll have moon bases and missions to Mars if AIDS doesn't wipe us out first.

They really had high hopes for space exploration. Shame that never happened. :(

EDIT: Oh this was a good one (thankfully not at all accurate):

"TIM POWERS: Probate and copyright law will be entirely restructured by 2012 because people will be frozen at death, and there will be electronic means of consulting them. Many attorneys will specialize in advocacy for the dead."


I think Sheldon Glasgow was the nearest to accurate. Most of their predictions were almost 100%. SHELDON GLASHOW

Written on the Eastern Air Shuttle between Boston and N.Y.

What will life be like in the year 2012? There will have been no nuclear war, and the threat of such a war will have been removed by the mutual nuclear disarmament of the major powers. SDI, Reagan's ill advised Star Wars program will have come to nothing.

Japan will be the central economic power in the world, owning or controlling a significant part of European and American industries. This "economic dictatorship" will be beneficial to Japan's client states, since Japan benefits by keeping its customers healthy and wealthy. Indeed, a peaceful and prosperous world community will owe its existence to this Pax Japanica.

Many diseases will be curable: diabetes and gout, for example, will be treated by 'genetic engineering' techniques. Multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease will be effectively cured. However, AIDS will not yet have been controlled. It will have become the leading cause of death worldwide with millions of new cases each year.

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. Most automobiles and heavy machinery will be manufactured in Japanese owned planets located in America. Yet, agriculture and higher education will be our most successful exports. There will be no fast trains connecting American cities, but a network of levitated superconducting trains will be under construction in Western Europe and in Japan.


I reviewed these and counted 49 distinct and falsifiable predictions, of which I judged 11 correct (about 20%). Optimistic predictions fared better (30%) than pessimistic ones (10%). Zelazny did best with 4/8, followed by Benford and Glashow. Full accounting here: http://lumma.org/temp/1987-2012_Predictions.txt


I find it rather gratifying - even comforting - that by and large their predictions missed the mark by a wide margin.

Predictions are the product of your current experience - your time until now. Many brilliant people try and predict the future, but in the end the future is up to us.


SOme lesson to learn from this: most people are wrong, and totally wrong about the near future (provided 25 years is considered "near").

That should say a lot about not listening to what's being said currently about what will happen in 25 years from now.


Worth a read: Pitfalls of Prophecy: Why Science Fiction So Often Fails to Predict the Future , http://www.locusmag.com/2009/Westfahl_Predictions.html. Why do they think that the fact that they write science fiction makes it worth listening to their predictions anyways? Well, besides the genre inferiority complex, which requires its hacks to pretend they're prophets, so they can feel important.


What's always interesting about these kinds of predictions is not the predictions themselves, but the window into the hopes and fears of people at the time. It's all here: Japan as an economic superpower, space travel, AIDS, poverty, hunger. Now compare to predictions that sci-fi writers today make about 2037 and you'll have a similar window into our own hopes and fears--many of which will be just as accurate, at least in the next 25 years.


Lesson: Don't be pessimistic.

The disaster scenarios you imagine are inevitable are really just the worst case, and the things that actually problems aren't thing you can predict.


GREETINGS TO 2012:

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.

Yet, in spite of that, we have a proud faith in you. Faith that you have saved yourselves, that you are giving birth to no more children than you can love and nurture, that you have cleansed and healed your injured planet, ended hunger, conquered crime, learned to live in peace.

Looking toward a better future for you than we can see for ourselves, we trust that you will use your computers and all your new electronic media to inform and liberate, not to dominate and oppress, trust that you will employ the arts of genetic engineering to advance the human species and make your children better than yourselves. We know that you will be inventing new sciences that would dazzle us, opening brave new frontiers, climbing on toward the stars.

We live again through you.

Sincerely,

Jack Williamson


All these writers clearly had no clue about the future. Even "Back to the Future" was much closer in spite of being a comedy.


What is surprising in these predictions is how near-sighted many of them are. Basically most of the writers just took popular topics of the day and wrote along the lines "will it get better? will it get worse?" Very few tried to think outside of the box and imagine future where their current concerns won't be concerns at all and instead different hot topics will arise. I do not blame them - it's almost impossible feat to achieve, but I still would expect from scifi writers a better detachment from politics de-jour and current fears and concerns.

I like Silverbergs and Zelazny's ones the best. Too sad Zelazny didn't live to present us that 2012 Christmas Grandchildren of Amber.


Goes to show, just how much easier it is to write about a future, than it is to predict the future.

Though on whole, if you grab a statement out of each (almost) you have the world of today.


My favorite of the bunch, Roger Zelazny, was also most accurate:

"ROGER ZELAZNY

It is good to see that a cashless, checkless society has just about come to pass, that automation has transformed offices and robotics manufacturing in mainly beneficial ways, including telecommuting, that defense spending has finally slowed for a few of the right reasons, that population growth has also slowed and that biotechnology has transformed medicine, agriculture and industry—all of this resulting in an older, slightly conservative, but longer-lived and healthier society possessed of more leisure and a wider range of educational and recreational options in which to enjoy it—and it is very good at last to see this much industry located off-planet, this many permanent space residents and increased exploration of the solar system. I would also like to take this opportunity to plug my new book, to be published in both computerized and printed versions in time for 2012 Christmas sales—but I've not yet decided on its proper title. Grandchildren of Amber sounds at this point a little clumsy, but may have to serve"

* We're mostly a cashless society using cards and electronic payment -- CORRECT

* Automation has transformed offices and robotics manufacturing in mainly beneficial ways -- CORRECT

* Defense spending has finally slowed for a few of the right reasons -- MIXED : True as a ratio, but not in absolute $$$

* population growth has also slowed -- CORRECT

* Biotechnology has transformed medicine, agriculture and industry—all of this resulting in an older, slightly conservative, but longer-lived and healthier society possessed of more leisure and a wider range of educational and recreational options -- CORRECT on nearly all counts

* ...in which to enjoy it—and it is very good at last to see this much industry located off-planet, this many permanent space residents and increased exploration of the solar system. -- WRONG

* I would also like to take this opportunity to plug my new book, to be published in both computerized and printed versions in time for 2012 Christmas sales—but I've not yet decided on its proper title. Grandchildren of Amber sounds at this point a little clumsy, but may have to serve -- ...

Despite all the other excellent predictions, his death came much earlier than he forsaw :(


I grew up in the 80s and the one main thing I can recall is the ever present fear of nuclear war.

If I had made a prediction back then I would say there would certainly be some sort of nuclear event at some point in the next twenty or thirty years.


> Bases on the moon, an expedition to Mars…all done.

How badly we underperformed.


No one here to blame other than political agenda. I fully feel we could have been in preparation for a humanized mission to Mars at this point. However, we've wasted too much time funding war and whether or not abortion and gay marriage should be legal instead. It's actually quite sad.


"Doom, doom, doom-doom, doom, doom ... doomie-doomie-doom, doomie-doomie-doomie-doom ... doom, doom. The end." -- The Doom Song, GIR, Invader Zim


Gregory Benford: "Berkeley, California will have a theme park devoted to its high period—the 1960s."

He's right. Berkeley has People's Park. As for the theme, well...


What's interesting to me is how some made assumptions that didn't turn out to be true but got much correct anyway.

Algis Budrys stands out in particular.


"Berkeley, California will have a theme park devoted to its high period—the 1960s."

This pretty accurately describes Telegraph Ave.


A wonderful link. My votes are: Wolverton for prescience, Silverberg for wisdom. Your AUs per year may vary.


> Most Americans are barely literate, think in images rather than symbols

Any comments on this?


It rubbed me the wrong way too. I'm a visual thinker myself, and I don't consider myself barely literate :p

Then again, I guess it could be interpreted in a different way...


Huh, no predictions that Tom Cruise would still not be exhibiting any OT powers.


As much as I love Gene Wolfe, his predictions are just embarrassing.


Orson Scott Card wins.


Is this the same L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame ?


Yes. Before that, his career was SF pulp writer. Not a great one, mind you. Religion pays better.


  Isaac Asimov       Died 1992
  Gregory Benford    Alive
  Algis Budrys       Died 2008
  Gerald Feinberg    Died 1992
  Sheldon Glashow    Alive
  Frederik Pohl      Alive
  Jerry Pournelle    Alive
  Tim Powers         Alive
  Orson Scott Card   Alive
  Robert Silverberg  Alive
  Jack Williamson    Died 2006
  Gene Wolfe         Alive
  Dave Wolverton     Alive
  Roger Zelazny      Died 1997
A lot more of them have survived to be embarrassed by their predictions than I had thought.


> A lot more of them have survived to be embarrassed by their predictions

Predictions are hard, especially about the future. -- Yogi Berra

But seriously, I was in my mid-20's in 1987 and not a lot of these predictions seem outlandish having lived through that time.


It seems that the major pass-time among people who read time capsule predictions is to count the most idiot things as "hits" as hail the people with the most bizarre ideas as prophets.

In that spirit, here's a few "hits" for everyone here:

"A new world order will emerge from famine, disease, and social dislocation: the re-tribalization of Africa, the destruction of the illusion of Islamic unity, the struggle between aristocracy and proletariat in Latin America—without the financial support of the industrialized nations, the old order will be gone." -- Orson Scott Card

"America and the U.S.S.R. preserve an uneasy accord, each testing the other's will within well-defined limits. [snip]Vestiges of reading, writing, and spelling remain in the curricula of the public schools. Those who can read a few hundred common words are counted literate. The schools train their students for employment—how to report to computers and follow instructions. [snip] There is little sex outside marriage, which normally includes a legal contract. A single instance of infidelity is amply sufficient to terminate a marriage, with damages to the aggrieved party [snip] The population of the planet is below six billion." -- Gene Wolfe

"Most Americans are barely literate, think in images rather than symbols [snip] Berkeley, California will have a theme park devoted to its high period—the 1960s. [snip] There will have been major "diebacks" in overcrowded Third World countries, all across southern Asia and through Africa. This will be a major effect keeping population from reaching 10 billion." -- Gregory Benford


Most Americans are barely literate, think in images rather than symbols

This rubbed me the wrong way. Thinking that way does not make a person stupid or illiterate.




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