I love reading stories from the great sci-fi writers of the 1950s and 1960s, such as “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov, and “I Sing the Body Electric” by Ray Bradbury. It’s amusing to go back and reread some of those books today, pointing out items from their “future” (our present) that the authors failed to predict.
No writer from that time period predicted anything like the iPhone, a device so magical that its functionality advances almost daily. The authors were big on the esoteric—stuff such as telepathy and android love—but couldn’t predict a (very near) future with an Internet, where people could visually communicate in real time around the globe.
Or that any person, with seemingly nothing more than a wireless appliance weighing less than an ounce attached to their ear, could speak with anyone else in the world, even while traveling. (Lieutenant Uhura’s earpiece in “Star Trek” was way bigger than the average Bluetooth headset, and she’s from the 23rd Century.) The authors would be shocked to discover that the holy grail of early science fiction technology—the laser beam—could be purchased by a child in devices costing less than $20—in the 1990s!
However, these visionaries also got so much right—artificial intelligence; the marriage of hardware and software, and the resultant bugs; robot labor; the fitful beginning to the colonization of space.
They also correctly predicted, in books such as Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” the reason for the urgency of leaving Earth: that we had FUBAR’d our own world so thoroughly, the only place hospitable to us was the cold, dark, airless harshness of space. A popular theme among sci-fi authors of the mid-20th Century was a future Earth where human consumerism and waste created mountains of garbage high enough to mock the sun, which is exactly what’s happening today. The authors were also fond of invoking Chaos Theory (also known as the Butterfly Effect)—made perhaps most famous in Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park”—which postulates that a tiny event in the present (such as a butterfly deciding whether or not to flap its wings at a certain time) can have far-reaching consequences in the future.