Failed predictions of the future?
April 13, 2006 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Is there a website that lists failed science fiction predictions, and successful ones?

Very example, is there any site that tells what sources predicted the creation of the internet, computers, that sort of thing. Or a site that shows failed predictions like the fact that contrary to what 2001 would have us believe, we can not take Pan Am to get to the space station. Also if you find the answer via google, could you tell me how you did it?
posted by drezdn to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
Technovelgy has articles about various things predicted in science fiction, though I don't think it reviews failures and successes.
posted by interrobang at 12:46 PM on April 13, 2006

Trying to do that comprehensively would really be pretty hard. One problem is that so many of the predictions are easily and provably wrong because they violate the laws of physics as we know them (e.g. anything that involves FTL travel to the stars) or causality (time travel). Another problem is that so many stories are placed far into the future, so the only answer would be "Not yet known".

Furthermore, a lot of them have been proposed not so much as extrapolations or deliberate predictions, so much as ways of setting up logic problems. Look at how many stories Asimov wrung out of the "Three Laws of Robotics", for instance.

And yet another problem is that there have been so damned many of them, central or peripheral. Just trying to catalog all the ones Heinlein made could occupy you for months.

"Space Cadet" is one of my favorite books by Heinlein. At the beginning of it, he tosses off a scene where Matt receives a telephone call from his parents on his portable wireless phone. For years I thought that was impossible. Little did I know that eventually I would actually work in that industry as a design engineer.

I would be very surprised if there is any such site.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:19 PM on April 13, 2006

Top 87 Bad Predictions About The Future, though not all science-based.
posted by disillusioned at 1:20 PM on April 13, 2006

failed predictions like the fact that contrary to what 2001 would have us believe, we can not take Pan Am to get to the space station
I wouldn't classify that as a failed prediction, unless you're saying either:
A) It hasn't happened by the predicted date
B) Pan Am is now a railroad company, with only limited aircraft involvement, so it never will fly to the space station

(Or both)

In any case, I think it's too restrictive to say if it doesn't happen by the date named in the fiction, it's a failed prediction. Maybe you could tell us just what your criteria for failure are.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:37 PM on April 13, 2006

Kirth, I see where you're coming from, ideally I'm including failed date marks in what I'm looking for. For example, while some day we might have hovercars, anything that predicted we would have them by 2006 would be considered a failure for my purposes. With 2001, I'm thinking more of the fact that we don't easily travel to the Space Station (or Jupiter for that matter).

Though in the broadest sense I'm looking for anything collecting predictions of the future.
posted by drezdn at 1:47 PM on April 13, 2006

In Heinlein's collection, Expanded Universe , from the early eighties, he reviews a set a predictions that he made in the forties and then had revised in the sixties. As I remember he did pretty well but it's been twenty-five years since I read it.
posted by octothorpe at 1:57 PM on April 13, 2006

Yeah, seconding the essay from Expanded Universe (it's been maybe 3-5 years since I read it last). Heinlein pulled out six major predictions, IIRC, and did pretty well -- I feel like he got about 4/6 by the time it was written in the early '80s. I think that there are also some smaller details, like Steven C. Den Beste mentioned, that Heinlein wrote about, didn't bother including in this essay, and still got right eventually.

I can put my hands on the book in a day or two, and type up a summary. Interested?
posted by booksandlibretti at 2:41 PM on April 13, 2006

not a website, but you need this book, The Experts Speak... i think it might be just what your looking for.
posted by RockyChrysler at 3:32 PM on April 13, 2006

When thinking about this, keep in mind that science fiction does not necessarily make "predictions." Many times, it's just a thought experiment. Many times it's just a framework to tell a great story. And -- as Ursula LeGuin said in her intro to "The Left Hand of Darkness" -- many times, it's really describing the present, not the future at all.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:27 PM on April 13, 2006

I can put my hands on the book in a day or two, and type up a summary. Interested?
I am! How about I'll check Asimov.
posted by uni verse at 9:36 AM on April 14, 2006

Surprising tidbit: Asimov wrote in "Trends" that we would land on the moon in 1978, was off by ten years. But this is not a bad prediction since the wrote a story about it in 1938!
Great lecture snippet of his on humanity trends here.
posted by uni verse at 9:59 AM on April 14, 2006

In Heinlein's Expanded Universe (I second the recommendation), he reprints a set of predictions he made in 1950, with updates from 1965 and 1980.

He was eerily on the mark, although his prediction "Intelligent life will be found on Mars." looks to have been a non-starter.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:25 PM on April 14, 2006

Here is a reprint of Heinlein on prediction of the future, almost certainly unauthorized. It contains atrocious Flash navigation 'aids' and, even worse, commentary by some kind of nutbar religious person.

Here is a reprint of just the predictions themselves (which were made in 1950 about the year 2000), along with a current year-2000 update by the author of the web page.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:31 PM on April 14, 2006

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