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Hard SF - "Predicting" the future? 
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Post Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?


Sun Oct 25, 2009 1:01 pm
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I was under the impression that Heinlein considered what he wrote to be "speculative" fiction - which allows for error in predictions, I would assume. If we are only speculating here we do not have to be accurate.

In fact I wonder if much of modern SF is not simply the same stories we think of as sf but marketed as mainstream. I saw a review for a book (Chronic City) by Jonathan Lethem today and the description of the plot cannot be considered anything but a standard SF device, IMHO. "Alternate reality?" That is mainstream now?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/books ... &ref=books

I understand that he wants to be considered (and have his works considered) mainstream. This is actually perhaps not a bad thing - he may have covered up his Ubik tattoo but wasn't Heinlein also trying to get speculative fiction to be seen as part of mainstream literature as well?


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Sun Oct 25, 2009 4:32 pm
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Mon Oct 26, 2009 2:43 am
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I am currently re-reading Friday (for about the 100th time) and considering it was released in 82 it does have some pretty good "speculative" guesses in it. Particularly about the use of the "computer net". I know the the internet was just about starting up way back then, but would we (did we) forsee just how dependant our lives would be on it? RAH certainly hit the nail on the head on that score.

Pity women dont wear superskin jumpsiuts though! Well certainly not in England!


Tue Oct 27, 2009 12:57 pm
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Well, not in Wolverhampton, certainly :-) Maybe certain communes in Sussex...

In 1982 the size of the Internet (then called the ARPAnet) was about forty nodes. A network diagram fit on a single sheet of paper. The backbone links ran at 56kbaud. So yes, RAH nailed it.


Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:19 pm
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Re: supertight skinsuits>

Observe your local 16 year old girl. Observe that they are wearing a pair of "skinny jeans" that must be pulled on (and fit like) nylon stockings. Add 2-3 camisole tops that all fit like a second skin. They will have different hem lengths and several colors of straps showing.

For formal occasions like school throw a bedraggled hoodie over it.

Skinsuits are here. When you see them on your daughter it brings an entirely new perspective to the issue.

(Of course I never worse anything so wild in my glory days....)

Audrey


Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:33 pm
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In mainstream media someone who just read Friday for the first time notes that Heinlein got an AWFUL lot right about California....


http://www.cnbc.com/id/33482832


Tue Oct 27, 2009 7:45 pm
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Wed Oct 28, 2009 6:12 am
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Dear Bill,

You are always gracious, but skinsuits and I parted company (in more ways than one) many decades ago.....

But thanks anyway -


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Wed Oct 28, 2009 4:47 pm
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OK I will accept skinsuits are around (I am afraid I have a teenage daughter too!) perhaps I am just getting too old to see them!

I think if RAH had lived in the Midlands (Central England) instead of California Friday and Maureen may not have been quite so sexy! :lol:

What about "semi ballistic" travel? That is the current flight development that everyone is trying to develop - again in Friday amongst other books. I bet this was influenced at least in part by Arthur C Clarke, but definately another "prediction" waiting to come true.


Thu Oct 29, 2009 11:59 am
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Thu Oct 29, 2009 1:15 pm
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Thu Oct 29, 2009 7:37 pm
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OK, another "sort of" from me - what about shipstones? I know they arent quite hydrogen fuel cells, but surely pretty close? I am pretty sure they will be the energy source of the future.


Fri Oct 30, 2009 3:41 am
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Fri Oct 30, 2009 7:33 am
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There is another area of technology affecting culture that I believe RAH predicted to a point.

When I was a child we lived in many communities in the US. In many of those places people considered the act of closing your living room curtains to be unacceptable – at least where I was, the rationale given was that there was nothing that went on in America’s living rooms that should not be something anyone could see.

Bedroom curtains and doors were of course sacrosanct. Privacy was treated as a “good thing” as long as it was not used to hide something nefarious. I suspect that RAH grew up in a similar culture, and he does hint at that sort of attitude when relating the childhood in the parlor of Lazarus Long.

In Friday, RAH talks about a version of the internet that is made up of reputable sources such as university libraries, etc. People were tracked by their use of terminals and credit cards, but not yet by chips. The idea of ANYONE being able to contribute to the data was not addressed.

In Moon is A Harsh Mistress, Mike needed to be specifically asked for the codeword to open a secret file – but could not volunteer it without being asked. This was used as a way to partially explain computer security – that a computer could be segmented into compartments that prevented the computer from accessing data.

Of course in Moon that was gotten around by asking Mike the special code.

Alexei Panshin wrote a letter about when Heinlein became upset with him and said he had violated his privacy. In that letter it was communicated very strongly that at least in Panshin’s opinion, Heinlein valued privacy very highly. He quotes a letter from Heinlein to a publishing company making it clear he (RAH) did not want “my professional methods, my evaluations, my religion, his ambitions, opinions, etc. and many facts of my personal life” released to Panshin or presumably the general public.

http://enter.net/~torve/critics/StoryHiD/HiDF.htm

John Varley is a writer who has been compared often to Heinlein, is writing a homage series, (and his Red Thunder series is considered very Heinleinian by many), and last month was awarded the Baltimore Science Fiction Society Heinlein award. This seems to have been an award given to authors that were authorized by Virginia Heinlein.

(Interestingly they made a point of noting that the award was not affiliated with the Heinlein Society, but I may be reading more into that than is warranted.)

In 1992’s Steel Beach, Varley postulates a central computer net that is installed in everyone via a microchip type of device. While I have not yet finished that novel it seems that the emotions of the people the sentient central computer monitors are now affecting the personality of the computer itself.

The proliferation in the last decade or so of massive communication via text, twitter, videos posted on you-tube (especially those from the ubiquitous cell phones) and of course email has filled massive amounts of computer storage. Cyber-space has become something we cannot function without. Job applicants are routinely googled and old transgressions posted on blogs or news sites can cost that person the chance of a job. Information posted on the web never really dies. The only privacy one has is to hide in the sheer volume of data – but if someone is looking for you anything posted by or about you is generally relatively easy to find.

That only applies to the data posted deliberately by people or about people. Another issue is the data swirling around the net that is supposedly secure.

When you relay a credit card number (complete with your “security code”) to an operator to place an order over the net, a human being of unknown character takes that order. When you enter your credit card number into the data directly a human being somewhere will access that. All they have to do is look up your order number. There is nothing entered over the net that cannot be found if someone tries hard enough.

In August 2008 the FDA appeared the use of tracking microchips (the kind commonly found in household pets) for children.

What happens to those chips when the children grow up? I suspect the vast majority of those kids will simply forget about them, unconcerned that it is way they can be tracked if someone wants to go to enough effort.

Is a sea change in the culture coming? Is privacy something that has become quaint – has “letting it all hang out” as a virtue reached a point where letting it all hang out is now an unavoidable fact of life? Our bank records, stock purchases, emails, monthly bills, taxes, the payroll checks our company pays, (and the taxes the employees have deducted from their checks) and of course anything we deliberately post, all move via the net. In fact it is now required that we submit our payroll and tax data electronically. It has been disconcerting to me more than once to find my name in a document I knew nothing about that has been posted on the net, especially regarding legal proceedings. That information cannot be destroyed. If someone slanders a person on the net, that slander will live forever.

And the younger generation may be fine with that. They are after all posting their endless u-tube videos and stories about their drinking binges and romances with abandon – in fact they call it social networking.

I do not think Heinlein saw that coming, or even Varley. But RAH definitely saw the beginning.

Just a line of thought that kind of crystallized today.

Audrey


Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:16 pm
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Mon Nov 02, 2009 8:12 am
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A University professor in Birminham (England) inserted a chip into himself and spent several months, having wired up the university, being tracked around campus. Every thing he did and everywhere he went was monitored by computer. He even had credit facilitieds on campus shops and restaurants, so when he had a meal all hed had to do was walk past the sensor on the checkout to register against kis account. He even had certain secure parts of the university (the mainframe etc) digitally coded to his chip so that door would open automatically to his presence.

He seemed to think that this was one potential way for the future. I think that it is terrifying!

Also an interesting link re child chipping in UK

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3307471.stm


Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:57 am
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This is the website link for Prof Warwick - one of the world's leading human/cyborg microchip experts. He's the one who wired up the university.

A very clever man, visionary? Well who knows?

http://www.kevinwarwick.com/


Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:08 pm
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Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:40 pm
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Except perhaps the evil people to use such knowledge?

I don't have any confidence in government to be smart enough to connect all the dots. I do hope they're able to hide the dots from the "Mrs. Keithly"s of the world.

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Mon Nov 02, 2009 5:23 pm
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Mon Nov 02, 2009 7:56 pm
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Rights, but a simple ID number should not be a master key to every record. The defect is in pretending that a name and readily obtainable (and damned near unchangeable) serial number is a secure combination.

I don't know what the answer is, but as most civilized nations have national IDs in fact or in effect, the US should just bite the bullet and make it a truly effective system instead of pretending there's no such thing and letting so many thing slip through the cracks as a result.

Secure systems exist. One is the New York state vital records system. To get a copy of a birth certificate there, you need exact name, mother's name, exact date of birth... and the name of the hospital or facility in which the birth took place. That last one is a real stumper.


Mon Nov 02, 2009 8:52 pm
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I read awhile back that Europe virtually eliminated identify theft by banning private use of Government issued numbers. They said it makes credit harder to process, but did take care of the problem.

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Tue Nov 03, 2009 9:58 am
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Tue Nov 03, 2009 2:09 pm
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I don’t know how much I really know as it was one news article that I read (back to that 4th estate discussion) on the internet. If I remember the article correctly each credit service ends up issuing their own customer numbers and it does make quick decisions near impossible.

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Tue Nov 03, 2009 4:05 pm
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Interestingly, the film 2010, released in 1984, seems to have .

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Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:03 am
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ACC has an astounding record of predictions. I don't know that this one came from him (instead of from the film production crew) but I've almost given up trying to track his many passing, even disposable comments that came true decades later.

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Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:40 am
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And the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy .


Mon Jan 11, 2010 10:38 pm
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http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/01/15/3d.t ... l?hpt=Sbin


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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
As most here probably are aware, RAH was once credited by Asimov with the most acute 'prediction' in genre SF, up to that tme, by predicting the Cold War and the MAD balance of terror resulting from nuclear arms in Solution Unsatisfactory. This was, of course, a short-range( say, one generation or less) prediction. The long range ones are much easier to make( just assume that tech has caught up to whatever one wishes to predict) and only to be verified or laughed at long after the predictor is gone.
Although RAH got few of the details spot-on( not having the 'bomb',the weapon being its poisonous 'dust') the important thing was the situation.

In general, the 'prediction' of gadgets seems a bit less important to me, as it did to Asimov, than how people will react to their invention and use.


Mon Feb 01, 2010 12:08 pm
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Heinlein is perhaps to be credited with popularizing the notion of a "cold" war and hair-trigger standoff over nuclear weapons, especially as early as "Solution Unsatisfactory" was written.

However, he was widely read in obscure fields, and if you read the detailed histories of the development of the bomb(s) and the physics that went into them, you'll find that the morality and consequences of each side having weapons of total destruction was kicked around in the late 1920s and early 1930s by the scientists themselves. It wasn't accidental that Oppenheimer had that quote on tap the day Trinity changed the game.

Welcome to the forum, incidentally. :)

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Mon Feb 01, 2010 12:40 pm
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Hi!
As I Posted, 'in genre SF'.
Your thoughtful reply brings to mind the venue where one might certainly find a great many prophecies and predictions: 'gray literature', a deal of which is composed of unpublished dissertations and theses. John Brunner noted this source in a Note to one of his novels.


Mon Feb 01, 2010 1:27 pm
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That struck me too, Dan, when I also reread Time Enough for Love a couple of months ago.

I looked up the matter on wikipedia. Presumably the bare facts are correct on such a subject. It turns out there was a "morning after pill" available as of 1971 (DES), but the FDA never approved it (ever) or anything else until 1997. So the concept was in the air in the early 1970's.

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Thanks for doing the research! DES rings only the vaguest of bells, and, of course, I have no recollection of when I became aware of it, but that would seem to remove this from the category of a prediction.

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Thanks again for the research. Sounds nasty!

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