Prediction or science fiction: beyond the impossible

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Earlier this week, Jeffrey Brandt, my fellow columnist on the Legal IT Professionals website, wrote an excellent, creative feature envisioning a global law firm in 2065, DLA, Watson, Siri & Wal-Mart. The names speak for themselves, extrapolating the current trends of globalisation and technology consumerisation. But in looking ahead 54 years, had Brandt changed enough? As he was describing the structure and technology of a law firm, and the legal sector supertanker is slow to turn, the answer is probably yes, but his feature reminded me that key challenges involved in forecasting future technology are predicting the pace and direction of change.

As my readers here and elsewhere will know, I travel quite regularly. This year I have been to eight destinations: Cuba, New York, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Singapore, Nashville, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Although my work involves quite a lot of travel, arriving somewhere new never fails to uplift and inspire me. One reason for starting this blog was to write about my journeys from a personal rather than professional perspective – my impressions of the places and people I visit rather than the meetings and conferences I attend.

In October, I visited Scandinavia twice – to Stockholm and to Copenhagen – for a conference and some meetings, a change of scene that would help me think and write, and to catch up with friends. Four solo plane journeys of around two hours. Although I always have my iPad 2, I like to read a book on the plane. Not a kindle or an e-book on the iPad – an actual book. This means I am not left looking into space as we await take-off or circle London in a holding pattern waiting for a landing slot. I don’t need the table down or the armrest up; I curl up in a window seat, lean into the corner and read my book.

Looking into space in a different way, I had selected Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama for my in-flight entertainment. There is something surreal about reading about space travel when you’re flying through the clouds. On a long-haul flight I always choose the sci-fi movie.

Clarke writes sensitively about a future encounter with an alien spaceship and although the book was written in 1972, none of the human or alien technologies seem unfeasible. It has none of the glitches that commonly date novels and movies that are set in the future, or in outer space. This is down to Clarke’s incredible skill in developing and managing the reader’s suspension of disbelief. There is just enough detail to keep us believing; the characters are sensible and the applied physics is accurate, but there is not enough information about how humankind got from here to there to make us question Clarke’s vision of the future even though it includes colonies on Pluto and a new religion as well as some wonderful, intuitive communication technology. As for Rama – the alien spaceship – once you accept that a massive alien craft has entered our solar system, anything can happen.

Of course it is possible to predict future techology and for centuries it has been done wth uncanny accuracy. William Gibson, impressively, wrote about the internet and hackers long before they existed.  The joy of science fiction is that it takes you beyond the impossible to another dimension.

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2 Responses to Prediction or science fiction: beyond the impossible

  1. Jerry Gentry says:

    This is a thought provoking post. I’ve always loved Gibson’s quote that "The future is already here, just not widely distributed." He had the insight to see where Internet connectivity was going and created Neuromancer – and a whole new genre. Until recently, I had thought Clarke got it wrong in 2001 ASO. He had HAL and mainframes were dying a slow death back then. Now, the centralization concept is resurrecting itself with virtualization and clouds. As an IT Exec and a writer of scifi/techno fiction I am as fascinated by the technologies that move us as I am by how we transform, or fail to, in dealing with them. What I have found is that technology deployment is easy. Learning to take advantage of it in an organizational/operating model is difficult. I think that is the spark for some great fiction – how will real people deal with the techno challenge. Clarke spent too much time on the techno stuff in Rama and not enough on what it really meant to have evidence of alien life inserted into our lives.Thanks for posting this. Jerry

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for your insights – and your kind words about the post.Joanna

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