2013, As Imagined By 1988

bladerunnerTwenty-five years ago, Los Angeles magazine envisioned what the world would look like in the current decade. And unlike Blade Runner, they avoided the cool but standard science fiction allegories – like massive billboards, flying cars and sentient robots – and went straight for the things that seemed entirely possible by contemporary standards.

The cover story of the magazine’s April 3, 1988 edition showed a futuristic downtown L.A. crisscrossed with electrically charged, multi-tiered freeways permeated by self-driving cars. The article itself then imagined a day in the life of the fictional Morrow family of the L.A. suburb Granada Hills, as “profiled” by the magazine in 2013 by science fiction writer Nicole Yorkin.

LAtimes_2013aIronically, the magazine did not envision that it would one day go out of business, or that print media would one day be lurching towards extinction. Nevertheless, the fictional article and the world it detailed were interesting reading. Little wonder then why, earlier this month, the LA Times along with an engineering class at USC, revisited the archives to assess what it predicted correctly versus incorrectly.

Together, pro­fess­or Jerry Lock­en­our and his class made a list of the hits and misses, and what they found paints a very interesting picture of how we predict the future and how its realization so often differs from what we expect. Of the major predictions to be found in LA of the 2013, as well as in the lives of the Morrow family (get it?), here is what they got right:

smart-house_vCe6I_25016In the article, the Morrows are said to begin every morning when their “Smart House” automatically turns on. This consists of all the appliances activating and preparing them breakfast, and no doubt turning on all the environmental controls and opening the shades to get the temperature and ambient lighting just right.

While this isn’t the norm for the American family yet, the past few years have proved a turning point for home devices hooking up with the Internet, to become more programmable and serve our daily needs. And plans are well under way to find a means of networking them all together so they function as one “smart” unit.

Self-Driving Cars:
chevy_env_croppedThe writers of the article predicted that by 2013, cars would come standard with computers that control most of the settings, along with GPS systems for navigation. They also predict self-driving cars, which Google and Chevy are busy working on. In addition to using clean, alternative energy sources, these cars are expected to be able t0 self-drive, much in the same way a pilot puts their plane on auto-pilot. Drivers will also be able to summon the cars to their location, connect wirelessly to the internet, and download apps and updates to keep their software current.

But of course, they got a few things wrong as well. Here they are, the blots on their predictive record:

Homeprinted newspapers:
news_appThe article also predicts that each morning the Morrows would begin their day with a freshly printed newspaper, as rendered by their laser-jet printer. These would be tailor-made, automatically selecting the latest news feeds that would be of most interest to them. What this failed to anticipate was the rise in e-media and the decline of printed media, though hardly anyone would fault them for this. While news has certainly gotten more personal, the use of tablets, ereaders and smartphones is the way the majority of people now read their selected news.

Robot servants and pets:
kenshiro_smallIn what must have seemed like a realistic prediction, but which now comes across as a sci-fi cliche, the Morrows’ home was also supposed to come equipped with a robotic servant that had a southern accent. The family’s son was also greeted every morning by a robot dog that would come to play with him. While we are certainly not there yet, the concept of anthropomorphic robot assistants is becoming more real every day. Consider, for example, the Kenshiro robot (pictured at right), the 3D printed android, or the proposed Roboy, the Swiss-made robotic child. With all of these in the works, a robotic servant or pet doesn’t seem so far-fetched does it?

Between these four major predictions and which came to be true, we can see that the future is not such an easy thing to predict. In addition to always being in motion, and subject to acceleration, slowing and sudden changes, the size and shape of it can be very difficult to pin down. No one can say for sure what will be realized and when, or if any of the things we currently take for granted will even be here tomorrow.

Alpha Moon Base at http://www.smallartworks.ca
Alpha Moon Base at http://www.smallartworks.ca

For instance, during the 1960’s and 70’s, it was common practice for futurists and scientists to anticipate that the space race, which had culminated with humans setting foot on the moon in 1969, would continue into the future, and that humanity would be seeing manned outposts on the moon by and commercial space flight by 1999. No one at the time could foresee that a more restrictive budget environment, plus numerous disasters and a thawing of the Cold War, would slow things down in that respect.

In addition, most predictions that took place before the 1980’s completely failed to predict the massive revolution caused by miniaturization and the explosion in digital technology. Many futurist outlooks at the time predicted the rise in AI, but took it for granted that computers would still be the size of a desk and require entire rooms dedicated to their processors. The idea of a computer that could fit on top of a desk, let alone on your lap or in the palm of your hand, must have seemed farfetched.

CyberspaceWhat’s more, few could predict the rise of the internet before the late 1980’s, or what the realization of “cyberspace” would even look like. Whereas writer’s like William Gibson not only predicted but coined the term, he and others seemed to think that interfacing with it would be a matter of cool neon-graphics and avatars, not the clean, page and site sort of interface which it came to be.

And even he failed to predict the rise of such things as email, online shopping, social media and the million other ways the internet is tailored to suit the average person and their daily needs. When it comes right down to it, it is not a dangerous domain permeated by freelance hacker “jockeys” and mega-corporations with their hostile counter-intrusion viruses (aka. Black ICE). Nor is it the social utopia promoting open dialogue and learning that men like Bill Gates and Al Gore predicted it would be in the 1990’s. If anything, it is an libertarian economic and social forum that is more democratic and anarchistic than anyone could have ever predicted.

But of course, that’s just one of many predictions that came about that altered how we see things to come. As a whole, the entire thing has come to be known for being full of shocks and surprises, as well as some familiar faces. In short, the future is an open sea, and there’s no telling which way the winds will blow, or what ships will make it to port ahead of others. All we can do is wait and see, and hopefully trust in our abilities to make good decisions along the way. And of course, the occasional retrospective and issue congratulations for the things we managed to get right doesn’t hurt either!

Sources: factcoexist.com, LATimes.com

New Anthology Sample: The Torch (Redux)!

Morning all! Welcome back for another Anthology sample, this time, a revised second installment from the short story “The Torch”. Last time, the story involved a tired and forelorn main character – Magid Muktari, environmental engineer and exoplanet enthusiast – coming home and meeting with his wife. My group seemed to agree that it was well written and faithful to Khaalidah’s original characters, unfortunately it contained details which did not fit with the story’s timeline. In essence, Muktari was not supposed to be married at this point in time.

After gritting my teeth and cursing my jumping of the gun, I erased the whole section and began writing it anew. The resulting section is the result, a homestead in which an overworked, forlorn visionary comes home to a slew of bad news and burdensome responsibilities. In the midst of it all, he contemplates his future and the future of his word. Take a look and let me know what you think:

The lights were already on when he came home. The nighttime creatures were about, singing their evening songs and tending to their nocturnal rituals. He felt the reassuring calm spread over him as soon as the wheels stopped in his driveway, the engine quieting down from its long run. The door raised itself for him and he put his tired feet to the ground, letting out a deep sigh.

“Home again, home again…” It took some effort to get him the rest of the way out. The steps were even harder to manage. It confounded him, how travelling could still be such a draining experience when machines generated all the motion. Perhaps their minds had not kept pace, still interpreting distance in terms of physical expenditure.

He paused on the front stoop and waited for Empathy to scan him. A quick flash hit his eye, discerning his retinal pattern, then projecting a kind greeting in his visual field.

Iyi geceler, Magid! it said. He waved at the sensor, and the door opened.

He made his way to the living room and tossed his jacket and satchel on the couch. His rear end met the cushions a moment later, and he felt himself begin to melt. He was halfway into a blissful fugue state when Empathy activated her living room interface and woke him up.

“Good evening, Magid. I have a number of messages for you.”

Muktari groaned and leaned up. He brushed the fatigue from his eyes and looked at the holographics that were forming in the center of his room. Green, blue and yellow, small dancing alpha-numerics. The words 13 Messages (2 Urgent) hanging in the middle.

“Give me the urgent ones,” he ordered. Empathy blinked and the display changed. He rubbed his head to dispel the headache and missed the appearance of his friends face in the center. It didn’t matter though, since the voice was one he would recognize anywhere.

“Magid, we got a problem over here,” said the face of Serge. “Word is the Memphis City Council is thinking of pulling the plug on the whole MFC concept. They’re claiming budgets, but the higher ups got it in their heads that this is a negotiation tactic. Me? I’m thinking the negotiation team tried to fleece them on land usage rights or something. In any case, someone needs to go out there and allay their concerns. They figure a senior engineer and manager ought to be just the person to do this.”

Muktari groaned again. He had just exhausted himself, skipping over time zones, heading from west to east. Going back west was the last thing he wanted right now. But at least Serge hadn’t given a date on when this was to expected. And he could certainly get away with not calling until the morning. Perhaps this would be the perfect opportunity to send someone else in his stead, or maybe Serge himself could be trusted with the task. No one knew the Memphis Floating Concept better than he, and he was sure to be able to put a positive spin on anything the negotiation team was asking for. At worst, he could tell them they were full of shit and to drop the demands, otherwise they would lose the contract.

The second message came up. This one he was ready and watching when the bronzed complexion of Aurelia came on. The summer sun was agreeing with her apparently, though the desert wind must have been a bother.

“Magid,” she said pleasantly. “Sorry to disturb you, but I thought you might like to know. A special presentation is being held in St. Petersburg this Tuesday, hosted by the Arctic Recovery foundation. The board has asked that we send a senior representative to present on behalf of the company and specifically asked for you. It’s not until Tuesday, so you’d have time to prepare.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “I know, last minute, but I just heard myself. I hope this doesn’t interfere with your plans. I know you must be exhausted.”

“You don’t know the half,” he said to the image.

“Anyway, please contact me at your earliest convenience. We’re making progress on the Kebili array. Would love your input. Bye!”

The image disappeared. Empathy’s voice returned. “Shall I show the other messages?”

“Summarize,” he said curtly. A short list appeared in the display reticule. There were several messages regarding his choice of homeowner insurance, sat coverage, and offers for cheap aerofare to Mumbai, Atlantic City, Cancun and Topside. Only two were from names he recognized, and only one of immediate interest. Bill, to tell him when he’d be in town next and when they could meet up. And Myrana, no doubt to let him know what she had in mind for their next soiree together.

“Select Myrana, please” he said with some enthusiasm. The message moved to the center of the screen and enlarged. “Play.”

The image of Myrana’s face resolved in front of him, and his heart immediately sank. He knew that look, the look of disquiet, guilt and the burden of coming clean. He leaned back in his seat and waited for it.

“Magid, I’m sorry to do this over the link, but you’re a hard man to get to. I thought it better that I do it here than bother you on your mobile too. Basically…” she took a deep breath, “I think we need a break. I know we both said we were looking for different things when we started this… whatever this is, but I’m at the point where I think I need someone who can make themselves available. I’m sorry, but I can’t be waiting around for someone to decide they’re finally ready for a relationship, not at my age. Feel free to call me when you get this, but if you don’t, I understand. It was lovely, Magid, it really was but… these things can’t last. Bye.”

She kissed her fingers and put them to the monitor. The image disappeared a second later. Empathy’s cluelessly cheery voice came on a second later. “Would you like to review any of the other messages?”

“No.” he said flatly. “Delete all.”

He didn’t need to hear Bill’s message. He was sure his impending trip to St. Petersburg would conflict with it anyway. And in any case, they weren’t that close. Alone, he let out a particularly long sigh and reflected on the timeless truth of the matter. There was situation so bad that you couldn’t make it worse with a dose of personal disappointment. He was learning that for the umpteenth time now.

But at least he had a good’s night sleep to look forward to. He knew Serge and the others wouldn’t fault him for arriving late tomorrow morning. Perhaps some food and a nip of whiskey while he was at it. Pushing himself to his feet, he made his way to the kitchen and began producing the particulars for his impromptu meal.

Rome is burning, he thought as he fetched small tubs of chicken, Cacik sauce and greens from the cooler. Yes, that seemed to be the shape of things. The world was spinning, faster and faster, and no one seemed to be too worried about it. It was like riding a wild beast that just kept getting angrier the longer the rider held on. On the one hand, they were afraid to let go; on the other, they knew they had to at some point.

And yet, here he was, enjoying a meal and a drink and trying to forget about all that. Was that the natural order of things? Was it the case that the Senators of old, he wondered. After looking out upon the decadence that had befallen their once great city, and espying the barbarians who weren’t far from their gates, did they all simply go home, break their bread and drink their wine, and tell themselves that they had done all they could? He had to imagine they did, because when it came right down to it, there wasn’t much else to do. The fight could only happen during business hours, the rest of the time was earmarked for rest and creature comforts.

Yes, the doors must have been crashing down before they realized they were doomed. He was sure it was the same way with the people of Uxmal and Chichen Itza. It wasn’t until all the heads had stopped rolling and the crops had failed that they knew it was time to flee for the wilderness and hope for the best.

He looked down into the tub of Cacik he held and spooned some into his mouth. He had been gone for days and he couldn’t even remember when he had bought this latest bin of sauce. And yet, it still tasted fresh and clean. He checked the chicken and noted the same.

Yes, the gates are coming down and the city is ablaze, he thought. But at least the food is still good. One had to be thankful for small mercies.