"We went to the Moon as technicians; we returned as humanitarians." --Edgar Mitchell

"We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the earth." --William Anders

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Futurology From Bobby Heinlein

I love Robert Heinlein. He was an arrogant bastard with some seriously frakked views on gender and sexuality, but I love his work. I grok him.
Well, when I found this list (on Lists of Note) that he wrote in 1949, I was super excited. Futurist lists like this are some of my favorite things ever. If the list is even partially correct, it makes me hopeful that the predictions we’ve made in the last few years might see fruition within my lifetime.
Anyways, on to the list!

So let's have a few free-swinging predictions about the future. Some will be wrong - but cautious predictions are sure to be wrong.

1. Interplanetary travel is waiting at your front door -- C.O.D. It's yours when you pay for it.

Well, that’s definitely true, but not in the sense I think he meant. We’re still trying to figure out how to get our current space program paid for, which ABSOLUTELY drives me nuts. But that’s a topic for another blog post. Oh, wait.

2. Contraception and control of disease is revising relations between the sexes to an extent that will change our entire social and economic structure.
Not gonna lie, I was a bit surprised to see this in a list compiled by Heinlein. But sure! Once birth control became more widely used, the number of women of “reproductive age” in the workplace increased, and a similar trend has been the increase in median age for first marriage, as well as the tendency for romantic pairs to cohabitate before (or instead of) getting married. This issue has also polarized the political scene. Fun, right?
Similarly, disease control/treatment has increased our expected lifespan, which changes the way our families are structured. And increased healthcare technology means higher portions of our income being spent on keeping us alive. Which is interesting, because it seems that doctors aren’t interested in the same.
Anyways, moving on.

3. The most important military fact of this century is that there is no way to repel an attack from outer space.
Pretty much wrong. The most important military fact of this century is that there is no way to prevent or defend against an attack from someone who does not care what happens to them.

4. It is utterly impossible that the United States will start a "preventive war." We will fight when attacked, either directly or in a territory we have guaranteed to defend.
Hahahahahahaha. Next.

5. In fifteen years the housing shortage will be solved by a "breakthrough" into new technologies which will make every house now standing as obsolete as privies.
Fifteen years from the year 2000 or fifteen years from 1949? I wish we all had smart houses. That would be absolutely amazing. Now I have this mental image of S.A.R.A.H. from Eureka.

6. We'll all be getting a little hungry by and by.
Well, some of us. Some of us are getting fatter. Yeah, you know who you are.

7. The cult of the phony in art will disappear. So-called "modern art" will be discussed only by psychiatrists.
Yeah, what?

8. Freud will be classed as a pre-scientific, intuitive pioneer and psychoanalysis will be replaced by a growing, changing "operational psychology" based on measurement and prediction.
Ummm, sort of. And by “sort of” I mean not really. Freud is pretty much a psychology faux pas, nowadays, but psychoanalysis still exists. But nowadays, statistics backs up a lot of what goes on in psychology.

9. Cancer, the common cold, and tooth decay will all be conquered; the revolutionary new problem in medical research will be to accomplish "regeneration," i.e., to enable a man to grow a new leg, rather than fit him with an artificial limb.
You know, I never really would have pegged Heinlein as an optimist. This is kind of refreshing.

10. By the end of this century mankind will have explored this solar system, and the first ship intended to reach the nearest star will be a-building.
So. Much. Fury.

11. Your personal telephone will be small enough to carry in your handbag. Your house telephone will record messages, answer simple inquiries, and transmit vision.

In the year 2000, this was true, at least for some house phones. In the year 2012, my “personal telephone” does all of the things that Heinlein said the house telephone would do. I love how quickly technology advances.
12. Intelligent life will be found on Mars.
Yeah, wishful thinking there, Bobby. We won’t find intelligent life on Mars until we put it there.

13. A thousand miles an hour at a cent a mile will be commonplace; short hauls will be made in evacuated subways at extreme speed.
I wonder what the dollars per mile breakdown is for air travel, nowadays. As a matter of fact, yeah, I’m going to do that calculation.

14. A major objective of applied physics will be to control gravity.
I think I remember something about DARPA working on anti-gravity, but the rest of applied physics isn’t even glancing in the direction of gravity control. We’re not even 100% certain what causes gravity.

15. We will not achieve a "World State" in the predictable future. Nevertheless, Communism will vanish from this planet.

False. I mean, no World State, not really. Europe got part of the way there with the Eurozone, but it’s starting to fray at the edges, which may be partially our fault.

16. Increasing mobility will disenfranchise a majority of the population. About 1990 a constitutional amendment will do away with state lines while retaining the semblance.
Interesting. If anything, on some issues, the states have become more separated.

17. All aircraft will be controlled by a giant radar net run on a continent-wide basis by a multiple electronic "brain."
SKYNET. But really, there are aircraft control systems in development that might actually do this soon. We just haven’t gotten there yet. Close, though.

18. Fish and yeast will become our principal sources of proteins. Beef will be a luxury; lamb and mutton will disappear
This should be the case, as cows and sheep are just about the least space/resource effective meat out there. We should be eating ostriches and fish. However, yet again, Heinlein is wrong.

19. Mankind will not destroy itself, nor will "Civilization" be destroyed.

Here are things we won't get soon, if ever:

-- Travel through time
-- Travel faster than the speed of light
-- "Radio" transmission of matter.
-- Manlike robots with manlike reactions
-- Laboratory creation of life
-- Real understanding of what "thought" is and how it is related to matter.
-- Scientific proof of personal survival after death.
-- Nor a permanent end to war.

We’ve gotten… two of those. See if you know which ones!!

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