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Author Topic: Future Food for Thought
Robyn_Hood
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There have been a few threads recently dealing with stories set in alternate times and they got me thinking (ooooh, so that's what my brain is for! )

Anyways, so much has changed so quickly in the last hundred years within society, scientifically, you name it. Would some one from the the late 1800s or early 1900s really believe they had come only 100 years forward if they travelled to our time?

And...
If we were to travel a hundred years into the future, what would we really expect to see? Would we continue accellerating at the same pace as the last century? Would we expect things to mostly the same?

Just some food for thought.


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ChrisOwens
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Ask Jules Verne. His novel about Paris in the 20th century had some good guesses, so good, they refused to publish it because it seem unbelievable. But it was such a depressing book...
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Christine
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Isn't this what the genre of science fiction is about?
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EricJamesStone
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> If we were to travel a hundred years into
> the future, what would we really expect to
> see? Would we continue accellerating at
> the same pace as the last century? Would
> we expect things to mostly the same?

A lot depends on whether there will be what Vernor Vinge calls a technological singularity. See this article for a discussion of the theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity


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Robyn_Hood
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Yes, that is what Sci-fi is all about. But what makes it believable?

If you had told someone in 1892 that in less than a hundred years, men would walk on the moon, how would they have reacted?

If someone came to you and said, in less than a hundred years there will be a nuclear war which will send the entire world into a second Dark Age, how inclined would you be to believe him?

What sorts of things are we so averse to believing that the very idea makes us scoff and say, that wouldn't make a good story because it is too unbelievable?


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Christine
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I don't think there is anything at all that I would dismiss if it was framed well. It's all about attitude. We've discussed believability around here and I'm not entirely sure how to write it yet (still takes practice) but I've at least learned to identify believable/unbelievable stories. The difference is attitutde. There are some things thazt if I intellecutalized them too much I would not believe them but somehow the writer makes it so that I don't even question it at all. It's attitutde. And authority.

In one hundred years I will believe that we will do absolutely anything as long as your story makes it sound convincing. As long as you have the attitutde and authority. DO not sound meek or hesitant. Do not sound as if you are suggesting a possible future but make it sound as if you have gone ahead and seen it for yourself.

A new dark age is not at all unbelievable. Big brother is not unbelievable. Men going to other planets and settling there is not unbelievable. Aleins coming here is not unbelievable. Famine, wars, plagues, the destruction of the earth, the destruction of our sun,...just put in the right authority and I'll believe it.

That said, some things will require more attitude and authority than others. You will have a hard time convincing me that the human race has evolved into beings of light in one hundred years. A million sure, but a hundred...gonna be a stretch. But that's still not impossible. You just have to show me some event that triggered the change, something convincing that would have effected all humans everywhere. We may well be on the cusp of a new evolutionary leap. I enjoy X-Men, for example, and they provide enoguh attitude and authority that I willingly suspend disbelief when their science is sometimes a bit dodgy.

You will have a hard time convincing me that humans had stopped behaving like humans. Star Trek is a prime example of this. They claim that humans have gone beyond violence and prejudice and moved into some kind of idealistic socialist society in which we are left with only the good human emotions. Still, Star Trek made a helluvalot of mone so they must have had the right attitude there.


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QuantumLogic
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My prediction is that, in a hundred years, nanotech will be at least as important as electricity is now.

While AIs could be created, and could cause the type of technological singularity Vinge discusses, they could not be created in the way he claims. For one thing, we would have to be able to program intelligence, which is qualitatively different from programming more and more complicated algorithms that handle a greater and greater quantity of specific cases. Until a machine can handle situations that were not programmed in, it won't really be intelligent. We are not making any significant progress in this direction in our attempts to create AI programs, and faster processors will not make such programs any easier to create.


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Jules
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Yes, we are, and it will. A lot of progress is being made in understanding the precise mechanisms that make the human brain work. At some point in the near future, we will probably be able to put together a computer program that simulates one. Of course, with current technology such a simulation would be so slow as to be unusable. We'd probably need an increase in computational capacity of several hundred times, if not thousands, for this to be practical. But we're moving in that direction still.

See http://www.kurzweilai.net/ for one opinion on this. I believe he's wrong about some of this, but it's plausible, at least.


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Survivor
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Yeah, it isn't really all that hard to make something smarter than a human, after all.

But of course the entire concept of "100 years in the future" is somewhat flawed. After all, there are many societies that are millions of years older than anything you see here on Earth. A man that traveled a hundred years into the future might not immediately notice anything greatly abnormal...depending on where he did his traveling. Most of this planet is pretty much the same as it was a hundred years ago, but we happen to live in the parts that we've changed the most.

If a Vingean Singularity event occurs, then the most radical changes won't be in the human world at all. In fact, it could happen without the vast majority of humans ever really noticing at all.

After all, what would be the point?


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goatboy
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The seeds of almost everything we are now doing were already laid 100 years ago, (1904). (Cars, lights, phones, phonographs, etc). Our current technology isn't radically new, just an extension of things already begun. So, yes I think they would accept it. Computers would probably be the hardest things to deal with.

If you ever get a chance look at old Popular science magazines from the 40's and 50's. They usually had some stories telling about new discoveries or speculating on what the future wqould bring. Some became important, some did not.


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Magic Beans
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Where is my flying car?

Where is my robot servant?

The future ain't what it used to be.

Part of the problem with sf is that we're nearing the "wall of prediction," where we can start to see what is actually meant by exponential acceleration of computational power. All timelines become absurd shots in the dark. Imagining anything post-singularity (if ineed it ever happens, and I'll bet it doesn't) becomes an exercise in pure fancy, rather than extrapolation.


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TheoPhileo
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I've seen a poster with flying cars and the like on it, with heading at the bottom reading, "Yesterday's Today." As fast as things have progressed, it has never been as fast as fiction works have predicted.
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Ergoface
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quote:
As fast as things have progressed, it has never been as fast as fiction works have predicted.

Except where writers completely missed the boat. I'm painfully aware of this one as I just acquired a trove of SF written in 60's thru the early 80's. It still amazes me at how completely most writers failed to get the computer revolution, even when it was happening all around them. Even in the early 80's most computers (even hundreds of years in the future) are depicted as overgrown calculators.

On the other hand they thought that we'd have moon colonies and more by now, sigh. I wish they had been right there.


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Minister
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The problem with accurately predictive sci-fi is that no one can predict a fundamental breakthrough. All of our sci-fi is of necessecity rooted in the science of today and its ramifications. This is why the sci-fi writers of the 50s and 60s envisioned space travel, flying cars, etc. The breakthroughs that they had seen most recently involved advances in transportation. Therefore, they looked forward to continued advances in the area of transportation. There was no way any of them could see the breakthroughs involved in modern computing technology. I think this is why we see so many sci-fi stories today involving computers and genetics -- that is where our recent breakthroughs have taken place -- information science (of which genetics is a sort of subspecies). And this is also why I almost never tell anyone that their story set only, say, 50 years in the future is implausible because of some scientific element. Because there is no way to accurately predict a breakthrough. Establish a premise, and explain it convincingly (preferably without violating currently accepted laws), and there is hardly any way someone can rationally claim it is implausible. What someone transported 100 years into the future would think would depend greatly upon what breakthroughs had taken place in that time.
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mikemunsil
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quote:
Where is my robot servant?

I have a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.

But it has an attitude.


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Survivor
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One major problem with the predictions of flying cars and robot servents and so forth was that they only looked at the technological feasibility of such inventions rather than their economic and social/civil feasibility.

We developed flying cars and personal jetpacks back in the sixties, and automated household devices of a variety of uses which could be done with something vaguely humanoid in form. But after a few movie appearances and so forth, these things all left our collective wish list because most people realized that they had no desire to buy them.

Multi-purpose home robots and flying cars/jetpacks are particularly good examples of the social/civic cost factor. The potential problems with millions of light aircraft buzzing around in our cities are obvious. Perhaps less obvious but just as easily imaginable are the problems of an approximately human sized/strong/massive robot running around in a house inhabited by humans. Back in the day, Asimov could wave his wand over the black box of cybernetics and invoke the Three Laws of Robotics, but the truth is that we don't have a computer that could understand them (frankly, I can't parse out what they actually are supposed to mean ).

It's a bit like weapons technology. Right now, we could distribute home bio/chem-warfare kits commercially at a high profit margin, but we've decided that it isn't such a great idea to make use of the technology in that particular way.


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goatboy
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quote:
I have a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.


I showed those to my wife and said we ought to get one. She sniffed about the expense. I reminded her that we paid a lot for a thunder vac a few years ago. She reminded me that it couldn't handle the pet hair and burned up real quick.

So, for the time being, she still prefers her shop vac.

[This message has been edited by goatboy (edited December 04, 2004).]


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mikemunsil
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quote:
So, for the time being, she still prefers her shop vac.

But, I can multi-task whilst vacuuming! Beer drinking while vacuuming counts!

mikemunsil


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wetwilly
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friend don't let friends drink and clean
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TruHero
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Isn't there a Simpsons episode where the professor pulls a punch card from a computer and says "In the future, computers will become larger and fill an entire room!" Then they show smomeone with a laptop.
I love the Simpsons.
I don't think that very many sci-fi people saw the computer revolution coming. Pity, really.

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cvgurau
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Reading Ender's Game (and admittedly, it's been a while) it seems to me that OSC saw e-mail coming a mile away. And laptops, if you consider their "desks" as such.
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