Sci-fi's bad batting average at predicting the futures
Over at AMCTV.com’s SciFi Scanner, John Scalzi explains “Why Hollywood Always, Always Gets the Future Wrong.” In reponse to a friend noting that the time setting of BLADE RUNNER is just around the corner but we still have no replicants, flying cop cars, or off-world colonies, Scalzi notes that cinematic science fiction has been notably inaccurate at predicting the future – no surprise there – but more interestingly, he points out that Hollywood is not even trying to predict accurately.
As Scalzi points out, science fiction films are really about the present. In his formula, the typical sci-fi scenario takes a present-day concern, extraploates it to an extreme, and combines it with some high-tech gadgetry so advanced that it might as well be magic. In the case of BLADE RUNNER, the concern is over-crowding and environmental disaster; the high-tech “magic” is the androids, flying cars, and space colonies.
Scalzi wraps up by pointing out that serious scientists, who presumably should have a better grasp of what’s coming tomorrow, have shown themselves no more proficient at predicting the future:
Everybody gets the future wrong. It’s not just Hollywood or science fiction writers. When it comes to the future, no one knows anything. At the close of the 19th century, British physicist Lord Kelvin declared heavier-than-air flight an impossibility (despite the existence of, you know, birds) and that radio was just a fad. In the ’70s, the president of Digital Equipment Corp. voiced doubts that anyone would ever need a personal computer. In 1995, scientist Cliff Stoll wrote in his book Silicon Snake Oil that the Internet wouldn’t really take off, in part because it could never replace newspapers or shopping malls.
It’s a fun piece, worth reading in its entirety.