The future – today

The hover board, arriving next year - according to Back to the Future (image source: http://www.digitaltrends.com)

The hover board, arriving next year – according to Back to the Future (image source: http://www.digitaltrends.com)

One of the joys of writing a novel set in the near future, and one of the biggest challenges, is to predict what the future looks like. This is particularly difficult when your novel is set in the near future because events in real life can quickly overtake you.

Predicting the pace of change is incredibly difficult – just ask the writers of Back to the Future; there are a lot of people looking forward to buying hover boards next year. At the same time, Peter F Hamilton has mentioned his frustration at coming up with the idea of a type of fax you carried with you for instant communication in his Greg Mandel series, only for his idea to be superseded by smartphones just a couple of years later, leaving the books feeling – to him – dated (I disagree, they’re great books if you like Sci-Fi thrillers). It is not by chance that all his novels since have been set many years in the future.

I completed the first draft of Second Chance over a year ago and  I’ve spoken before about how I believe some parts of our lives will be completely different in the future, whilst others will be virtually the same. I based some of my predictions on trends I could see happening today, others were completely made up. However, since writing my first draft, some of my predictions have already started to emerge into our world today. Here are 5 of them.

1. Datalenses

This was less of a stretch. Google Glass, whilst not launched at the time of my first draft, had been known about for a long time. What is more interesting is that since launch they have provoked some extreme reactions, both on how fashionable they are but more importantly on privacy. The privacy aspect was one reason why I decided not to allow datalenses to record what the wearer was seeing. However, I also realised that the authorities would use other means to get the information they wanted.

2. Driverless vehicles

Again, centrally controlled driverless vehicles have been a staple of science fiction for many years and it was a no-brainer that they would be introduced as an important part of a more environmentally friendly future. I still think that driverless systems on public roads are a few years away from being commercially available but it’s clear that they are coming and Nevada became the first authority to provide a licence for their use in May 2012. As of today, driverless vehicles are legally allowed to drive on public roads in four US states. Whether they will become widely adopted without any form of legislative push is another matter.

3. Internet security

At the time I wrote my first draft most of us believed that the biggest risk to internet security came from criminal hackers and computer malware. Then came Edward Snowden. Now we are aware that government security services have been hoovering up our internet activity on an industrial scale; collecting metadata allowing them to track our every move, recoding who we communicate with and how frequently; even collecting information on our sexual orientation through social media and by hacking the apps we use or games we play. What is even more surprising is that, apart from a prominent few people, the news has been greeted with a shrug by the majority of people. In my book I foresaw the internet growing into disuse as its neutrality became compromised by government and commercial organisations, to be eventually replaced by the datasphere. With the widespread use by activists and criminals of the Tor network and the growth of the dark net, this is already starting to happen.

4. Memory transfer

One of the areas I thought most about during the planning of the book was how it would be possible to transfer your personality elsewhere in the event of your death. This year a group of researchers from the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics successfully planted a false memory into a mouse’s brain. This means that one of the basic building blocks for memory transfer – planting the memory – has already been proven to work. We’re a long way off transferring whole personalties and a lifetime’s worth of memories, but it’s a start.

5. Environmental Catastrophe

As I speak, my country is experiencing the 3rd month of what feels like solid rainfall. It is unprecedented. January was the wettest recorded since records began. That we are going through a period of rapid climate change is not in question. I also believe the cause is also not in question, though others disagree. For me, the most interesting part is our failure as a country to be adequately prepared. Over the past few years short-term political expedience has superseded long-term planning. It is one of the key themes from my book and has sadly been proven correct. Whether this winter’s problems will provide a wake up call I don’t know, but looking at past behaviour, I doubt it.

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14 thoughts on “The future – today

  1. I’m really enjoying ‘Second Chance’, especially the futuristic imaginings, which all seem credible and logical to me. I remember reading ‘1984’ for the first time in 1974 or thereabouts, and being terrified that the world George Orwell created would be the actual future. Disturbingly, though the year 1984 passed without too many of his imaginings becoming real, we seem to be a great deal closer to his world today.

    • We do. If you had told George Orwell that in the early 21st century most of the world’s population would happily carry devices that tracked their every movement, he would have been horrified.

  2. Hmm, food for thought, Dylan. What is especially worrying to me is the way our every move can be tracked via the internet. Not that I have anything to hide (it wouldn’t bother me to have to carry an ID card) but the thought of dossiers about our every move being available is not the stuff of a democratic society.
    As for the current flooding issue – it all boils down to the distribution of funds. Listening to the news this morning and hearing the blame being shifted between the Environment Agency and a government minister was laughable. Explaining that historically the Somerset Levels have always been a flood plain and it was man’s intervention to create agricultural land in the first place seems to absolve any of them from taking charge.

    • Hi Jenny. What you’ve written about the Somerset levels is a great example of the issue. We have known more extreme weather conditions will become the norm but our governments (not government) have singularly failed to give leadership on how the country should prepare itself (whether through changes in planning policy, upgrading defences etc) because it has been seen as something that can be put off. Lots of good work has been done (have you noticed that the River Severn has hardly been mentioned this year) but only to correct issues that came to a head the last time flooding was an issue.

  3. When I attended ThrillerFest last summer, I went to a discussion where the panelist was made up of scientist authors (physicians, engineers, etc.). One of them mentioned how the science fiction of today is often the science NON-fiction of tomorrow, and, as you point out, sometimes those two events are more closely related in time than we expected.

    On an unrelated note, I just followed you on Twitter. Can’t believe I hadn’t found you there yet.

    • Sometimes Science Fiction inspires scientists to develop what they have read in the real world. I don’t believe teams of scientists would be working on transporting atoms instantaneously between two points if it hadn’t have been for Star Trek.
      Thanks for the follow. Yes, I can’t believe I hadn’t looked you up either. I’ve followed in return!

    • Thanks, Ilka! I don’t think it will be too long before driverless cars become commercially available, though these appear an attempt to give people the freedom they currently have with a car but without needing to drive. I think the future will be either city-wide or nationwide centrally controlled grids, like what you have in Abu Dhabi but on a much large scale.

  4. I admire sci-fi writers, Dylan, for I don’t have the imagination required to dream up what the future may look like. You’re right about climate change, though. Why are there so many nay-sayers in this arena? We in Chicago have experienced record cold this winter, as has much of the U.S.

    I just watched the original Back to the Future with my kids for (their first time seeing it). I was a teen when that movie was released…funny that The Future is upon us! Too bad we don’t have those flying cars. That would take care of our traffic congestion problem here in the Windy City.

  5. I remember a T-shirt slogan from the 70s, which read “We are the generation our parents warned us against.” It’s a measure of how the older you are the more the sense of the-future-now! is apparent and of long-term predictions (like the consequences of climate change and global warming) becoming frighteningly way past imminent. Conversely, the younger you are, the more you take such change for granted.

    Good post, by the way.

    • This is so true. What is interesting for me is that while technological change can be incredibly rapid (how many of us even 15 years ago would have believed we could have access to the world’s knowledge from a device in our pocket?) but at the same time behavioural change is incredibly slow (our main form of relaxing in the western world, drinking alcohol, hasn’t changed in millennia.

  6. This makes my computer virus with the red letters appearing across my black computer monitor look like child’s play doesn’t it, which it probably was, ha!!

    Dylan, I so admire you as a sci-fi writer who can write about these kind of futuristic scenarios in such a believable and what seems like a prophetic way. Are you absolutely sure that you aren’t a modern-day prophet?
    (Can’t wait for the paperback btw!)

    The irony isn’t lost on me as I type this from a gail-force blown and rain-driven Somerset that times are certainly a-changing, and fast.

    Great post!

    • I’m not sure I’d claim to be a prophet! A lot of the information was already there. What I’ve been surprised about is just how quickly events have moved on. Sadly, what hasn’t surprised me – at least in the case of the floods – is that we were unprepared because short-term thinking always takes precedent over vague, long-term threat. This is human nature. If we thought differently, the majority of the population would save their money instead of building up debts that will make life hard in their later years.

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