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Any SF that foresaw the present?

  1. May 11, 2017 #1
    I wondered, whether anyone in the past had written a story, that gave at least a good approximation of our present?
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  3. May 11, 2017 #2


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    I think my present would be too boring to make a story of.

    On the other hand there have certainly been many stories about a general degradation of the environment, society becoming more separated into more distinct economic, religious, and ideological groups.
    All the rocket and space stuff is far more developed SciFi though.

    What aspects are you thinking of?
  4. May 11, 2017 #3


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    I know of several that foresaw various aspects of modern society, such as the internet, but none that truly gave a good approximation of the present. I can't remember their names at the moment though.
  5. May 12, 2017 #4


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    The Simpsons had an episode where Donald J Trump was elected president!
  6. May 12, 2017 #5


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    "Foresaw" might be difficult to define. There has been such a wealth of science fiction over the years that purely by chance some of them are going to get some predictions right. Beyond that a big issue is that first order predictions are relatively easy, it's the second and third that are incredibly hard. For example: Predicting a global network of personal computers that can share files is one thing, predicting the spread of social media, the rise of let's plays, meme culture etc. is way more difficult. TL;DR predicting technology is easy, working out the social consequences is hard.

    Of all the SF genres that have done a relatively good job an argument can be made that 80s cyberpunk got it right. Sure we don't have physical sockets in our head, nor have megacorporations replaced the nationstate but we do live in an always online world with an increasingly global wealth inequality (and at least over the course of my life in the UK East Asian food and culture has become more common here).
  7. May 20, 2017 #6
    Arthur Clarke had a few of these, including the use of satellites for a global communications network.
  8. May 26, 2017 #7
    I would have to nominate "Stranger in a strange land" for this thread, not exact by any means but so many parallels that you have to be impressed.
  9. Jun 8, 2017 #8
    1984, the piano player, just 2 of the top of my head but there are lots
  10. Jun 9, 2017 #9
    The original Star Trek 'communicators' were an interesting bit of fantasy at the time.
    Imagine that!, a pocket sized device that could be used to communicate with anyone anywhere who also had such a device.
  11. Jun 13, 2017 #10
    Dick Tracy's 1952 wrist radio watch is now the iPhone watch of today... Yes past to present invention.
  12. Jun 13, 2017 #11
  13. Aug 22, 2017 #12
    Star trek of course predicted the communicator (~cell phone) and tablets [touch screen] (no one uses PC s there, and no one writes on paper anymore - reports etc. are done with "tablets" etc.). Furthermore, today's 3d printer is just a primitive form of the Startrek "replicator". Moreover, verbal command computers, universal voice translators etc..
    I can go on with holograms and VR, and perhaps their "sub-space communications" (or something) are kind of like a "space (not just galactic) wireless internet" ... etc.

    So it seems that Gene Roddenberry did a good job in predicting some of the things that we have today, but ... for way into the future ...
  14. Aug 22, 2017 #13
    As to predicting technology, science fiction has a very mixed record. Some SF things have not happened, like strong AI and easy spaceflight, and some real-life things have seldom been predicted, like the Internet. SF is sometimes behind the times. For instance, SF started with the main AI in it being robots and the like, but when real-life computers started appearing, SF ones started appearing.

    Isaac Asimov suggested in his essay "Future? Tense!" (collected in From Earth to Heaven) that the important prediction is not the action but the reaction, not the technology but what people do with it. Thus, something like a positronic brain is a technical detail and not very relevant to the overall picture of advanced AI. Likewise, for self-driving cars, what happens to manual driving. IA himself wrote "Sally" (collected in Nightfall and Other Stories) about self-driving cars where manual driving had been outlawed as needlessly dangerous. He himself wrote
    Robert Heinlein, writing as Anson Macdonald, wrote "Solution: Unsatisfactory", in which nations arm themselves with radioactive dust. But since it is hard to defend against, the outcome is the same as with nuclear bombs: every dust-possessing nation becomes dependent on the goodwill of every other one.

    IA also imagined how a SF writer might write about cars in 1880. Like this?
    That is, technobabble. Or like this?
    Lots of visual-media SF is not much better about spaceships.

    HG Wells proposed that cars would enable people to move outward and create suburbs, among other things, in his 1901 book Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress: Upon Human Life and Thought. IA suggested writing a story about a problems that HGW didn't anticipate: where to put one's car when one is not driving it.
  15. Sep 10, 2017 #14


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    Yes. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I feel like Frankenstein's monster every morning.

    Seriously, here's a fun story:
    Mark Twain Predicts the Internet in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Story, “From The ‘London Times’ in 1904”
    though according to the wikipage, he was actually inspired by others.

    I remember that Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1932) made an eerie impression on me, e.g. the quote
    Brave New World is a dystopia, not an approximation, but I remember being a little bit taken by the idea of soma, considering the antidepressant prescription trends seen in many modern countries... (EDIT: I should add I'm absolutely not against antidepressants)
  16. Sep 11, 2017 #15


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    There's also somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy to consider: Person reads SF story, thinks "Hey that's an interesting widget," goes on to invent said widget. I seem to remember Steve Jobs being inspired by some of the designs from Star Trek (but I could be making that last part up).
  17. Sep 11, 2017 #16
    Still it's a prediction, as not all things (predictions) can be self-fulfilled, whereas the ones that they eventualy do it's logical and expected that they would! ...
  18. Sep 15, 2017 #17
    Walkie-talkies dated back to World War II, and it was not impossible to imagine a long-range one. In fact, I think that "walkie-talkie" is a nicer name than "communicator" -- though not much shorter, it is rhythmic.

    ST's communicators seem less capable than present-day low-end cellphones, let alone smartphones. I have a low-end cellphone, and it can do not only voice, but also:
    • Text messages, complete with storing them
    • Logging and accounting info, like which calls made
    • Date and time

    Also, The Original Series seemed to have a common model of computing in the early days of computers: a single big "brain". But what has emerged over the last few decades is a lot of interconnected smaller brains and ganglia (minibrains). The movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" featured the same model, with HAL 9000 being the main or only computer on board the Discovery One spaceship.
  19. Sep 15, 2017 #18
    Cell phones, smart phones, mini computres etc. are multi-tools, kind of like "Selma" in Time-Trax (with police captain "Darien Lambert" - 90's (Fox TV series) [1993]). "She" was a holographic super-smart portable mini talking computer (in a Universal AT&T card [at that time] appearence (for time-travel under-cover purposes)), equiped with multi-tool, credit card and mobile communications (AT&T at the time +/over the 90's internet) ... !
    The holographic projection part ... yet around the corner to appear commercially in our days, in the near future (it started as a fashion early 90's but diverted into expansion of the cell phone technology that temporarely took over, before they soon [will] combine ... (I hope so)).
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2017
  20. Sep 15, 2017 #19
    Another interesting issue is Stardates and GPS. Stardates are the dating system used in Star-Trek episodes. It is explained as a sort of galactic standard time, because time flows at different rates at different places. But it's not very clear what the Stardate system has for a zero time or epoch.

    Something similar to Stardates has to be done for the Global Positioning System (GPS) and similar systems (C:PKDISS4.PDF - ch7.pdf, etc.). To get 10 meters of position accuracy, one needs a timing accuracy of 30 nanoseconds. Using a semimajor axis of 26561.75 km, the special-relativity time-dilation effect is -0.83*10-10 or slow by 7.2 microseconds per day. Referred to the Earth's equator, the gravitational-potential effect is +5.28*10-10 or fast by 45.6 microseconds per day. (The Earth's oblateness's gravity is ignored here; it's at most around 10-3, and that's near the Earth's surface)

    As observed from the Earth's surface, a GPS satellite runs fast by about 4.45*10-10 or 38.4 microseconds per day. So the satellites are run slow by that amount to avoid accumulating discrepancies of 12 km/day.

    Velocity effect: ## \frac{v^2}{2c^2}##
    Gravitational-potential effect: ## - \frac{GM}{rc^2}##

    Going from the Earth to interplanetary space, one gets a time speedup of 7.0*10-10 or 60 micrseconds per day or 22 milliseconds per year.
    Going from the Earth's orbit to interstellar space, one gets a time speedup of 1.6*10-8 or 1.4 milliseconds per day or 0.50 seconds per year.

    Handling our Galaxy is a more complicated case. Its disk's velocity curve is likely flat, like in many other spiral galaxies. This makes the gravitational potential more complicated: ## v^2 \log (r/r_0) ## for orbital velocity v, distance r, and some reference distance r0. So we need the Sun's orbital velocity, about 230 km/s, and its distance from our Galaxy's center, around 8 kiloparsecs. It's hard to tell where the series action takes place, but I'll take some sizable fraction of our Galaxy's size and set the logarithm factor to unity for convenience. That gives us 6*10-7 or 50 milliseconds per day or 20 seconds per year. For going inward or outward by only 8 parsecs, these numbers go down by a factor of 1000. So the time corrections necessary for the Stardates will be much less than 1 Earth day.
  21. Sep 16, 2017 #20
    I don't recall any stories featuring global warming, despite the "greenhouse" mechanism being a solid part of the scientific literature well before it came to wider public attention - yet I've read stories written after, set in near futures, where it failed to get any mention, even as general background. Including by some "hard" SF writers who could not have been ignorant of it. Stories featuring it rate their own category now.

    Heinlein did seem to predict the loosening of censorship of matters sexual within broadcast media. I kind of wish his "shipstones" (ubiquitous energy storage devices appearing in "Friday") or something like them could end up being real.
  22. Sep 16, 2017 #21

    what about 'water world'?
  23. Sep 17, 2017 #22
    Simon, I don't recall stories with global warming before it became a significant public issue, ie predicting it. Plenty of SF I've never read or watched of course. "Waterworld" was released in 1995, 7 years after the IPCC was set up. I was unimpressed by that movie - well, by most SF movies; their makers almost seem to make a point of abandoning all scientific accuracy, as if including any at all must automatically make it boring or something. I suppose now it would be called an early CliFi movie.
  24. Sep 17, 2017 #23

    To say it was unimpressed is praising it
  25. Jan 22, 2018 #24
    The 1982 novel by Polish sci-fi author Janusz Zajdel titled "Limes inferior" (english Lower Limit). It foresaw the use of electronic wallets, credit cards, ID cards, biometric readers. Elements of society classification present in it resembles me what happens now in China which wants to introduce society classification system based on points. Lack or abundance of them gives citizens various restrictions or benefits. It really happens now...

    I really recommend it and his other works. He was a physicist that's what drawn me to his works. You can find more info on wiki.
  26. Jan 22, 2018 #25
    I think that most or some of these things were already present in the 80's (at least in the US, e.g. credit cards and electronic IDs ...).
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