Looking backward — and then toward the future

Before looking onward to the future, let’s take a brief look back: “In any case, the 21st century is undeniably the century (that) science fiction built — if not in utter hands-on reality (though even that proposition is debatable, given the inspiration the genre has provided for influential scientists and geeks), then in the public imagination. Since the birth of genre SF in 1926, and for almost the next 75 years, simply to set a story in the third millennium AD was to signify extravagant extrapolation and a futuristic, far-off milieu when flying cars and food pills would reign — or dystopia would prevail. The year 2010 is automatically one of yesterday’s tomorrows.”writes Paul Di Fillippo, in “Is Science Fiction Dying?”

Aw heck, let’s add one more preening! I’m quoted in this BBC article: Futurology: The tricky art of knowing what will happen next: “In more recent times, author David Brin, in the 1989 novel Earth and in his other works, predicted citizen reporters, personalised web interfaces, and the decline of privacy. “The top method is simply to stay keenly attuned to trends in the laboratories and research centres around the world, taking note of even things that seem impractical or useless,” says Brin. “You then ask yourself: ‘What if they found a way to do that thing ten thousand times as quickly/powerfully/well? What if someone weaponised it? Monopolised it? Or commercialised it, enabling millions of people to do this new thing, routinely? What would society look like, if everybody took this new thing for granted?'”

How do we project ourselves into the future? No matter how hard futurists try, their visions never quite match up to reality. In H+ Magazine, Valkyrie Ice points out the Top Five Errors in Predicting the Future
1. Tunnel Vision: extrapolating future changes, by giving too much weight to one line of technological innovation
2. Ideological slanting: imprinting today’s ethical or moralistic biases on the future
3. Linearism: imagining that technology advances in a linear fashion, rather than exponentially, or along several parallel tracks
4. Static Worldview: a failure to envision how technology will deeply alter society and culture
5. Unrealistic models of human nature: certainly what we view as ‘average’ will shift in the future

Ten predictions for News Media in 2011

Really Inspiring!

Meryl Comer and Chris Mooney make a strong (overwhelming, in fact) case thatinvestments in science and R&D nearly always prove to be the best possible way to advance the economy, to stimulate job growth, advance public health and improve our balance of payments. There are no excuses for not making R&D a top priority.  Which means that the party that sabotaged science in the United States for so long has no conceivable rationalization or eexplanation, other than deliberately sabotaging their own country.

And… Space News

One way to reduce launch costs: manufacture parts in space. A new company, Made in Space, proposes launching 3-D printers into orbit and using them to manufacture parts for spacecraft (satellites or the space station) – which would then be assembled in zero gravity. This would reduce the need to bring spare (plastic) parts. Broken pieces would be recycled as ‘feedstock’ for rapid prototyping. (I did some preliminary work on this in the early eighties!)

Will we be able to grow crops on other planets to sustain human colonies? Scientists analyze soils on the Moon,Mars and Venus for potential agriculture.  Aeroonics is another possibility for soil less agriculture.

Project Icarus is a Tau Zero Foundation (TZF) initiative in collaboration with The British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Daedalus was a BIS project in the late 1970’s conducted over several years, to design an interstellar probe for a flyby mission to Barnards Star. Over three decades has now passed and it is an opportunity to revisit this unique design study.

Earlier this week my son and I stood in our backyard and observed the International Space Station crossing through the night sky  — an inspiring sight. If you want to know when and where to look, check Heavens Above for your geographic position. It tabulates the location of the ISS, and satellites, as well as any visible comets.

And… Science Fiction

The 100 best movie spaceships.

How does Serenity compare to a TIE Interceptor, or Babylon 5 Station to a Klingon Transport vessel?  Starship Dimensions, an online museum of vessels inspired by science fiction, puts it all to scale, contrasting dimensions of starships to real-life vessels.

And…. The Economy

James Fallows comments on “The Chinese Professor” Ad from Citizens Against Government Waste.

Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Statistics… and the statistics of joy… Important perspective!

About the ever-widening income gap, Frank Rich writes, in a New York Times article: Who will stand up to the super-rich? : “As Winner-Take-All Politics documents, America has been busy building a bridge to the 19th century – that is, to a new Gilded Age. To dislodge the country from this stagnant rut will require all kinds of effort from Americans in and out of politics. That includes some patriotic selflessness from those at the very top who still might emulate Warren Buffett and the few others in the Forbes 400 who  that it’s not in America’s best interests to stack the tax and regulatory decks in their favor.”

Uncle Sam needs you to solve America’s budget crisis: On this interactive site, you can choose which domestic and foreign programs to eliminate, and see how it affects the budget gap forecast for 2015 and 2030. You can choose to close tax loopholes, add a national sales tax, eliminate farm subsidies, cut military spending, or raise the Social Security age, and then share your plan online.

This really fascinating program (based at Northwestern U.) follows dollar bills and makes it possible to map connections among americans.  Interesting and easy to become a participant of “Follow George.”


The idea that we are entitled a life of happiness is a relatively new one. Past generations were more likely to accept their lot in life – with happiness a function of birth, bestowed by the fates or the gods, the reward for a virtuous life – or even delayed til a glorious afterlife. We who are less patient, believe it is our due, and yet, in the bustle of modern life, few seem to attain it…See A History of Happiness.

And finally...
Here’s hoping that the end of the Naughty Oughts (I named em in 1998) will bring a decline in grouchiness, a return of reasonableness and fizzy can-do, ambitious problem-solving!  And may you and yours have their best decade yet. (Though the worst of those that follow…)


1 Comment

Filed under future, science

One response to “Looking backward — and then toward the future

  1. I hope that there’s a future for science fiction writing (and writing in general), but in this age of merging publishing houses and disappearing magazines, I have to wonder. Writers who are well known are safe bets, but those of us who are trying to get into the business have fewer and fewer opportunities.

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