The future – today

The hover board, arriving next year - according to Back to the Future (image source:

The hover board, arriving next year – according to Back to the Future (image source:

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idea of a type of fax you carried with you for instant communication in his Greg Mandel series, only for his idea to be superseded by smartphones just a couple of years later, leaving the books feeling – to him – dated (I disagree, they’re great books if you like Sci-Fi thrillers).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.