Science fiction and predicting the future

RamasesEveryone does it, trying to predict the future. Some are relatively small things, such as, holiday trends, mobile phone apps, whatever next big thing in fashion might be.  These are looking, perhaps, a few years ahead.  Some, however are the big questions that affect the planet/all of us such as, climate change, population growth and energy supply.  What’s more some of these big questions are trying to look far into the future, twenty, fifty, perhaps a hundred or even hundreds of years.

The only thing for certain is everything will change. Interestingly, when I worked in marketing (many years ago) and we did our 10:3:1 planning (ten, three and one, year) the wisdom of the time said that when looking ten years ahead most people tend to overestimate the amount of change. If you look at our own lives ten years ago, yes they’ve changed, but it’s been more of an evolution an incremental step. I still drive a petrol driven car, it’s got more safety features etc, but it’s basically the same. I use a computer although what it can do and the reach of the internet has grown.

However, when you start to add all those incremental steps together and look back a century say, the changes are phenomenal. Just think back a hundred years, it’s a world we hardly recognise. It’s, well, history.   What’s more the pace of that change appears to be accelerating, so how different is the world going to be in a hundred years time. Trying to predict that would seem to be an almost impossible task, even for something like population growth. In my book ‘Project Noah’ I have the estimate of world population as nine billion by the end of the century. I have seen some predictions that suggest that might be conservative. However there is also a school of thought that says it will start falling in the middle of this century. What we are then looking at are possible scenarios rather than predictions, ‘if such and such happen then this will be the result’.

When get that far out surely to some extent prediction becomes guess work based on what we know and what we can imagine. The way I see it scientific prediction and science fiction are just different points on that sliding scale. If we try to look perhaps thousands of years ahead then science prediction and science fiction come closer together to the point where they are indistinguishable.

Old science fiction booksThere was an article in Huffington Post in February about Isaac Asimov’s predictions for 2014:

“In his article, called “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014,” Asimov got a whole bunch of his guesses right — and his other predictions are making us a little envious of his imagined future.”

Part of me wonders how much of what he imagined in his books actually influenced the future he was predicting.  That people who read and were inspired by his (and other authors books) became scientists and changed our world. The beauty of science fiction to me is that anything is possible. The only limitation is our imagination. And surely at the basic level that is what inspires scientists and inventors, their imagination.   So should we be surprised if there is a cross over between what is written as science fiction and what appears in the future?

I’m not saying we should treat everything in science fiction as a possibility, but when it comes to looking for what the future might or could hold for us we shouldn’t dismiss it either. At times I feel science fiction is treated as a bit of a quirky genre, not to be taken seriously in the world of fiction. But, all fiction has the power to change the world in some ways and change the way we think. Science fiction has the power to change of future world/worlds, to fire the imagination and inspire. If we can dream it then maybe we can find away to make it happen.

As always I welcome your opinions.

Ian Martyn


Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

If you have a view on this, let me know: