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"Why Science-Fiction Writers Couldn’t Imagine the Internet" Topic

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290 hits since 13 Sep 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0113 Sep 2017 9:46 p.m. PST

"Whenever I am speaking at a public event or on the radio, one of the questions I inevitably get is: "What will be the next big discovery?" My answer is always the same: "If I knew, I would be doing it."

There is a reason for this, and it is the reason I titled my most recent book, which is about the history of modern physics at its most fundamental level, The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far. The "So Far" part is the most important part of the title. Almost every day, we learn more and nature surprises us with something remarkable and unexpected. Indeed, the very word discovery implies the unexpected.

As a child, I expected to be driving in a flying car or vacationing on the moon by now…"
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Zyphyr13 Sep 2017 10:42 p.m. PST

The comments on that article do a rather effective job of destroying the article itself.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Sep 2017 4:11 a.m. PST

SF writers couldn't imagine a LOT of things over the years (and I'm one of those SF writers) :)

I still love to re-read the early Heinlein stories with starships being navigated by people using slide rules or doing the mathematical calculations in their heads because digital computers don't exist. (In "Rocketshipo Galileo" on the way to the moon, the inventor talks about 'cutting a new cam' for their analog piloting machine.)

And even when you can imagine future developments, the future keeps getting here so fast. In several of my stories I had to work hard to keep ahead of advancing real-world technology.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2017 5:01 a.m. PST

I love Krauss' writing as much as next guy and like his essay. But I'd be remiss to point out that he forgets H. G. Wells and "World Brain"

"Wells describes his vision of the World Brain: a new, free, synthetic, authoritative, permanent "World Encyclopaedia" that could help world citizens make the best use of universal information resources and make the best contribution to world peace."


But that may be a case of the exception proving the rule.

Personal logo Andrew Walters Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2017 10:44 a.m. PST

The point of SF is not to predict the future, but to comment on the present. Of course, once in a while you get it right by accident.

GypsyComet15 Sep 2017 7:08 p.m. PST

The author is claiming to identify technologies that weren't predicted ahead of time, but it is apparent that he really wanted to write about the singularities that resulted. He just didn't.

Sure, Trek predicted cell-phones and tablets in the 60s, but couldn't grasp the effect those would have on society. We now have trouble recalling what life was like before smart phones (10 years) or the Web (23 years), and none of us would have been able to describe the effects those things would have on us.

Great War Ace Inactive Member16 Sep 2017 9:01 a.m. PST

No Scifi had anything like cellphones before the fact. Everyone walked around singularly focused on their immediate surroundings. To be distracted away, they had to talk on a phone, or communicator that was a glorified walkie-talkie. The idea of a smart phone was unimagined. There was this idea that everyone could be plugged into a central database, but it was constant. Perhaps that is where we are going with the Net and cellphone development. "Skip to the end, brother". This interim we are passing through is just a passing development of the universal, or World Wide Database, where you go in and never come back out………………

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2017 9:01 a.m. PST

The best things about sci-fi tv and film(something books naturally avoid) is that, sure we can travel faster than the speed of light, and a single starship computer has more computing power than 5 billion of our computers.
But somehow the knowledge about how to make high-def screens have been lost. Cruising through space at warp 8 while watching a screen that belongs to the 1960s

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Sep 2017 9:44 a.m. PST

My favorite comment on the lack of SF foresight (can't remember who said this, it may have been Asimov or Bradley) was that while hundreds of writers described the first manned trip to the moon and many even got the technical details fairly close to the fact, not ONE of them predicted that when it happened, half the world would be watching it on live TV :)

Graycat Inactive Member19 Sep 2017 7:34 a.m. PST

One of my favorites has always been Robert Heinlein describing plotting inter planetary travel using pencil, paper, and a slide rule. Heinlein was big on slide rules. The message is, hell with the tech, read the damned story.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2017 8:14 a.m. PST

The message is, hell with the tech, read the damned story.


I like Andrew's answer. Most Sci-Fi is commenting on the present by extrapolating today's events into the future. It's not really in the prediction business.

Hafen von Schlockenberg Inactive Member19 Sep 2017 9:33 a.m. PST

It's often been pointed out that writers of the 40's and 50's were so fascinated with robots,that they completely missed the computer revolution going on under their noses.

Now that the writers have caught up, so have the robots.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2017 12:31 p.m. PST

I like to brag that I am the last person on this planet to have had a slide rule stolen from me. I was pretty good at it too.
It was just about the time that Texas Instruments was flooding the market.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP27 Sep 2017 5:38 p.m. PST

That made me think how the slide rule could do square roots. I couldn't figure out how to move the rule to determine square roots. I remembered that it was really easy.

Had to go to Wiki and find out that you just compared the A scale with the D scale. The latter is the square of the former. No sliding required!


Wish I had my Pickett again. There is one for sale for $195 USD on EBay


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