Painful Truth: History, in the blender on puree

Two of my favourite topics are 1) trying to predict the future and 2) making fun of anyone who thinks they can accurately predict the future.

This is what happens when you’re a science fiction nerd from childhood. You get to see all the ways people have imagined the future in the past century. Parallel to the science fiction novelists, who seldom took themselves all that seriously as prognosticators, were futurists who liked to spew out articles about how we’d use rockets to deliver the mail, or atomic power in jet airplanes, or how superhighways would be 20 lanes wide and houses would have plastic furniture.

A mixture of science fiction and futurism tended to give us a series of consensus views of the future.

The classic future of the 1940s through to the early ’60s was like Classic Coke: chemical, mass-produced, artificial, and very American. We were going to have atomic rockets and moon bases staffed with white men with crew cuts. Unless we all blew ourselves up, first.

Dystopia was big in the mid-to-late 1960s and ’70s. The future was likely grim: overpopulation, environmental devastation, war, famine, etc. Also drugs, especially psychedelic drugs.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s we got the cyberpunk future. Lots of leather and chrome in a decaying landscape where corporations were running amok, where the rich got richer and the poor poorer, and computer technology and information exchange was where power was really found.

We didn’t actually get any of those futures. Instead, we’re sort of getting all of them, at once.

This week, Elon Musk of Tesla electric car fame announced that his privately built Falcon9 rockets will have landing legs attached. Eventually, his SpaceX company is hoping to be able to have the two-stage rockets touchdown for re-use, rather than splashing down in the ocean. Just like out of a Robert A. Heinlein novel.

In Italy, scientists recently developed an artificial arm that can give feedback to sensory nerves, allowing a Danish man to feel the shapes of objects for the first time since he lost his hand nine years ago.

NASA has a small team studying whether they can build a warp drive.

Meanwhile, California is in a state of extreme drought and is more or less continuously on fire, ditto for much of southeastern Australia. In the past few years we’ve seen natural disasters that would have made Irwin Allen green with envy – he never thought of hitting a nuclear power plant with a tidal wave.

Closer to recent predictions, one of the biggest thorns in the side of the U.S. government is a low-level contractor who happened to have access to vast amounts of data about government surveillance of civilians and friendly heads of state. Drones remotely blow up terrorists. The U.S. is trying to extradite a man named Kim Dotcom for pirating movies. Real pirates are also an issue near Somalia.

Then there are the news items that ensure you know that someone tossed all of history into a blender and hit “puree.”

Members of a politically active Russian punk band called Pussy Riot were literally whipped by Cossacks while protesting at the Olympics. A site formerly devoted to trading Magic: the Gathering cards is at the centre of the disappearance of thousands of bitcoins, a digital currency backed by no government. Revolutionaries have been manning barricades in Ukraine (note: it is not 1917).

I have no idea what’s going to happen next. But it’s going to be amazing, and weird, and horrible, and wonderful, all at once.

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