I’ve come to an interesting conclusion the past couple weeks while driving home. We’re living in the future.
During my drive home every day, I usually listen to NPR’s All Things Considered, and during that time, I’ve heard a lot of news that has made me realize that the future that most of the Science Fiction novels that I read (Usually Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke) had promised was here, although not quite in the way that we’ve expected, and not quite as dramatically. However, that being said, with elements of a science fiction future popping up in this day in age, it makes me wonder if other elements might be on their way soon. It’s a hopeful thought.
Over the past couple of days, a couple of items in the news have caught my eyes. The first is a runaway satellite that’s due to cross into the Earth’s Atmosphere in February 29th. Launched a couple of years ago for the US military, it was supposed to be a top of the line spy satellite. Once it reached orbit, it malfunctioned and started to de-orbit. Tonight, at 10.30, a Navy ship will shoot a missile into orbit to shoot it down before it burns up in the atmosphere. To my knowledge, a satellite has only been shot down once before, about a year ago by the Chinese. Looking at this sort of situation, I can’t help but wonder if this will be a new phase of warfare over the next several decades, and it absolutely scares me – With China and India becoming dominate powers in the world, while former superpowers in Europe and North America are forced into competition for a sort of global dominance – will space become a new battleground? I can see a situation in which orbital dominance and occupation might happen.
Something that I’ve noticed with some of the books that I’ve read is that there seems to be a progression in detail for most of the stories in the way that science and technology are handled. This has to do, I suspect, with the progression that technology and science itself has taken, as we further understand the world around us, and as things become more advanced. Earlier science fiction tends to handle these things in much broader strokes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we see Space Opera coming before Cyberpunk novels, and I know it isn’t a coincidence that Cyberpunk novels came and have gotten a lot more sophisticated with the advancement of computers.
With this parallel advancement in science and science fiction, the visions of the future between Golden and New age Science fiction novels and contemporary Science fiction have diverged, with the contemporary sci-fi becoming more and more accurate, especially when it comes to smaller details – as technology progresses, it adds opportunities for use, once authors get a good anchor point from which to work from.
There are a lot of items that would have been considered fantastic and right out of science fiction even ten to twenty years ago. Items such as mobile phones, (which in and of themselves have advanced at an extremely fast rate in the past five years) portable computers, automobiles, portable music players, houses, spaceflight and warfare. Mobile phones and MP3 players now double as video players, audio recorders, telephones and web browsers. Cars now have voice activated features, interface with satellites for navigation, computers that can now fit into an envelope and homes that are becoming increasingly energy efficient and advanced. Wireless networks are everywhere – in cities, homes, along highways and more – devices are now becoming increasingly dependent on them, all while the internet continues to grow and change, where websites become integral parts of our culture. Television and video have gone digital and high definition; All items that would have likely made it into a futuristic environment.
Advances in biology, another root theme in Science fiction has also made a lot of headway in the news. One distinctive news story that I remember coming across was about a burgeoning bio-research field in Iran, where there have been huge advances in cloning. Even more interesting, the FDA in the United States has approved cloned food for regular consumption. Advances in stem cells have led to promising results and even more promising
Crime fighters and the military have undergone their respective advances that might have been considered science fiction as well. As the boundaries between battlefields and civilians have shrank in the years since the Second World War have necessitated huge changes in the way that force is delivered to their targets. With an increasing number of battlefields with higher numbers of civilians, accuracy has become paramount and wars are being fought with fewer casualties. Soldiers fight in the dark, call in missiles from hundreds of miles away with pinpoint accuracy, and planes are flown without pilots. Police are being issued non-lethal weapons.
There are darker sides as well. The internet is growing and individual privacy has been reduced significantly. Databases of information are gathered and updated around the clock. Private information is held and used against users for shopping and browsing. It’s an extremely frightening concept.
All of these things have been looked at in a number of different science fiction stories, some very accurately, some not as much. I can say with relative certainty, that twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years ago, these items would have seemed absolutely fantastic and things that were not likely to come around for a lot longer.
Not all of the future has come true. We don’t go to the moon any more, space flight has been relegated to science that rarely yields practical results (fascinating results, but no major changes in life, at least not since Velcro was invented) and teleportation, time travel, hover cars and jet packs still have yet to come about. 2001 was an optimistic idea, but one that might come about with a little more time.
Maybe space flight is about to be the next advance. Virgin Galactic is set to start launching civilian space flights for tourists out of New Mexico on a regular basis – Next year. If I could afford it, I’d buy a ticket tomorrow.
There’s a great quote from a film that I really like, Seabiscuit. Interestingly, it’s set a turning point in the twentieth century, as the automobile is coming into larger acceptance: “I’d like to offer a toast: To the Future!”
To the future indeed. `