Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Two SF books that had near term predictions

1. David Brin's Earth
2. Stephen Baxter's Manifold Time

David Brin's book published in 1990 was far sighted in the sense that it predicted the effects of climate change long before it became mainstream public discourse. I especially liked the look into the future where a new "religion" based on environmentalism was formed - NorAChuGa - the North American Church of Gaia. He also notes that most of Miami is under water and a hazardous occupation using divers to go through the under water cities to find valueable items had emerged. Landfills have become full and now 50 years later were proving to become sources of raw materials that have now become scarce and a new venture of landfill mining had emerged. Most of Greenland had warmed and was now open of emigration. Some had also begun seasteading. The ozone layer has been depleted and skin cancer was on the rise. The population mostly wore goggles that double as a video recorder to record crimes and hats. A splinter group called RaRa rebels against this and instead embraces the sunlight. Insights like these were quite amusing and interesting. At over 650 pages though it did make for slow reading and the pace doesn't pick up until about page 400. One blemish was naming one of the characters Sepak Takraw.

Stephen Baxter's book was not as massive and is an interesting exploration of the evolution of the universe and causality violation/multiverses. Both books take place in the near future - Baxter's in 2010-2012 and Brin's in 2030 or so. It's too tempting to prove them right and wrong so I'll do that here.

Both are overly optimistic and overly pessimistic at the same time. The scale of disaster brought on by war, population growth (of Malthusian proportions) and environmental degradation seems a little overstated although Brin still has the luxury of time on his side (30 years more or so) to be proven right. Both authors used an artifact called a "softscreen" which I assume is to be some kind of computer/laptop with foldable/rollable screen. As nice as it sounds I think that this may be a little far off still (but again, Brin has time on his side). (Brin also forsees an interface using thought which sounds interesting. See this entry for some possibilities.) As long as manufacturers continue to concentrate on processor speeds things like energy consumption, battery life, user interfaces and idea as to what constitutes a computer takes a back seat. However, I should also contradict myself by saying that Intel/AMD have also focused on energy consumption of their chips because of laptops (although not fast enough for me) and touch-screen interfaces are being used (again not as fast as I'd like to see) and Apple has been in the forefront with design with Mac Air -- not quite what I imagine a softscreen to be. In order for this to happen both user interface and design have to converge.

The weakest assumption is the seeming ease at which individuals are connected to the Web. Certainly in large cities this is the case but I'm not sure that there is sufficient coverage in rural areas to assume that everyone can remain easily and cheaply connected. I'm looking forward to a day when access points are available anywhere and are free.

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