13 SF writers' wild 1987 predictions for what 2012 would be like

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

Way back in 1987, some of the greatest minds in science and science fiction who'd been brought together by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard were asked one question: What will the world look like in 2012?

The responses are interesting, and show a window into those futurists' minds as they worked in the mid-to-late 1980s.

So, 25 years later, here are some of the most interestingly right, and wrong, predictions to come out of the exercise.

Thought it is a bit lengthy, the full responses can be found at Writers of the Future, and it's definitely worth a look if you have the time.

Gregory Benford

"Bases on the moon, an expedition to Mars...all done. But the big news will be some problematical evidence for intelligent life elsewhere."

Algis Budrys

"Because we will be in a trough between 20th-century resources and 21st-century needs, in 2012 all storable forms of energy will be expensive. Machines will be designed to use only minimal amounts of it. At the same time, there will be a general expectation that a practical cheap-energy delivery system is just around the corner. Individuals basing their career plans on any aspect of technology will concentrate on that future, leaving contemporary machine applications to the less ambitious or to those who foresee a different future."

Gerald Feinberg

"The techniques for nanotechnology were already being developed in 1987. Tunneling microscopy and X-ray holography can be used to visualize objects on an atomic scale. Molecular beam lithography and trapping of individual atoms by laser beams or magnetic fields have been used to move and place atoms as the experimenter desires. These techniques will surely be refined to the point where we become capable of doing engineering on the nanoscale as we can now do on the macroscale. It was this mastery of atoms and molecules which led to many of the most prominent features of the world you now inhabit."

Sheldon Glashow

"Many diseases will be curable: diabetes and gout, for example, will be treated by 'genetic engineering' techniques. Multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease will be effectively cured. However, AIDS will not yet have been controlled. It will have become the leading cause of death worldwide with millions of new cases each year."

Frederik Pohl

"[Y]ou live in a world at peace. Something like the World Court, as an arm of something like the United Nations, resolves international disputes, and has the power to enforce its decisions. For that reason, you live in a world almost without weaponry; and, because you therefore do not have to bear the crippling financial burden of paying for military establishments and hardware, all of you enjoy and average standard of living about equal to a contemporary millionaire's ... The most unpleasant and debilitating jobs (heavy industry, mining, large-scale farming) are given over to machines; most work performed by human beings is in some sense creative. The exploration of space is picking up speed, both by manned colonization and robot probes, and by vast orbiting telescopes and other instruments."

Jerry Pournelle

"A computer will win the Campbell & Hubbard Awards."

Tim Powers

"Probate and copyright law will be entirely restructured by 2012 because people will be frozen at death, and there will be electronic means of consulting them. Many attorneys will specialize in advocacy for the dead."

Orson Scott Card

"The changes will be as great as those emerging from the fall of Rome, with new power centers emerging wherever stability and security are established. The homogeneity of Israel will probably allow it to survive; Mexico and Japan may change rulers, but they will still be strong. If America is to recover, we must stop pretending to be what we were in 1950, and reorder our values away from pursuit of privilege."

Robert Silverberg

"We're coming out of a time of troubles into a time of risks and promise--as we have been doing since the beginning of history. I think the 21st century will be a time of terror, surprises, miracles, and glory--with the emphasis on surprises and miracles."

Jack Williamson

"If we had a time-phone, now in 1987, we would beg you to forgive us. We have burdened you with impossible debts, wasted and polluted the planet that should have been your rich heritage, left you instead a dreadful legacy of ignorance, want, and war."

Gene Wolfe

"Vestiges of reading, writing, and spelling remain in the curricula of the public schools. Those who can read a few hundred common words are counted literate. The schools train their students for employment--how to report to computers and follow instructions. (Called interaction.) Fifty million adult Americans are less than fluent in English."

Dave Wolverton

"Introduction of x-ray microscopes in the early 2000's will lead to rapid progress in gene splicing. Look for rapid growth in medicine and mining, and food production. We may also see bacteria being engineered to simulate parts of the immune system (which could cure immune disorders such as AIDS and allergies)."

Roger Zelazny

"It is good to see that a cashless, checkless society has just about come to pass, that automation has transformed offices and robotics manufacturing in mainly beneficial ways, including telecommuting, that defense spending has finally slowed for a few of the right reasons, that population growth has also slowed and that biotechnology has transformed medicine, agriculture and industry--all of this resulting in an older, slightly conservative, but longer-lived and healthier society possessed of more leisure and a wider range of educational and recreational options in which to enjoy it--and it is very good at last to see this much industry located off-planet, this many permanent space residents and increased exploration of the solar system."

(Writers of the Future via AlterNet)

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