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What Some of the Greatest Science Fiction Writers Thought 2012 Would Be Like

25 years ago, a group of writers and scientists offered their visions of today's world. What did they get right? And what did they miss?

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A lot of progressives, in our more cynical moments, would have to agree.

Wolfe also foresaw the world of computer-generated graphics, which was just emerging in 1987: 

The dramas are performed by computer-generated images indistinguishable (on screen) from living people. Scenery is provided by the same method. Although science fiction and fantasy characterize the majority of these dramas, they are not so identified.

It sounds like he saw  Brave -- 25 years before it got made.

Nuclear War, World Power and the USSR

In 1987, the Berlin Wall was still standing, the USSR was still the Other Big Power, the Cold War was the defining fact around which all global politics turned, and Japan was a rising tiger that was just starting to make Americans nervous.

Where would all this lead? Sheldon Glashow pulled no punches. By 2012, he said: 

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.

And further:

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.

So far, so good. But then Glashow lost his foresight mojo:

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.

Orson Scott Card, the author of The Abyss and Ender's Game, was the only one who truly understood that America in 1985 was approaching the beginning of the end of its time as the world's dominant power -- and also the only one who hinted at the end of the Soviet Union, which would result in a rapid global political decentralization. And he offered a potent warning that still rings true: 

If America is to recover, we must stop pretending to be what we were in 1950, and reorder our values away from pursuit of privilege.

Hopes, Fears and Foolishness

Some of the predictions were just specious and silly. Jerry Pournelle foresaw computers winning prestigious literary prizes. Yeah, we've got computers producing text now -- but they're a long way from passing any  Turing tests. Steampunk pioneer  Tim Powers was betting his copyrights on cryonics, and predicted a boom in lawyers representing the deceased.

Fredrick Pohl, tongue firmly in cheek, applied a time-honored futuring tool: lay out your assumptions for a most-likely future, and then turn every assumption and trend on its head until you get a mirror-image future in which every variable becomes its opposite. Since Pohl started with the most pessimistic assumptions possible back in 1987, his vision of 2012 is the most rosy and utopian of all: a world of global peace and prosperity, free of arms and armies, longevity and leisure, happiness and healed Earth. "It is therefore clear that to make the predictions above is to bet recklessly against the odds," he concluded. "It's still a good bet, though."

 
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