Small Future

Arthur C. Clarke famously predicted the artificial satellite before it became a reality, he is a widely respected futurologist, possibly one of the best, predicting the course of technological advancement with uncanny accuracy. He is of course also a respected science fiction author - the two going hand in hand.

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
— Arthur C. Clarke

Much of science fiction attempts to predict the future, but where Clarke was often so successful in his predictions much of popular science fiction absolutely is not. Take a look at Star Wars: everything in Star Wars is colossal. There are a few reasons for this I think. One is clearly the spectacle of theatre, it's grand, impressive and dramatic; all things considered this is a good reason to get technology 'wrong'. Of course the reality is that almost, almost, all technology gets progressively smaller. It may be used to help build things that are bigger, but the essential nature of a specific technology is to shrink. Silicon chips are getting smaller all the time and are simultaneously used to build bigger and bigger data centres. Material science is leading to thinner/lighter building materials that are used to build bigger and bigger aircraft. That doesn't excuse the future supercomputer being portrayed as the size of a house when it will more likely fit in your pocket.

Star Trek offers examples of near-misses in technology prediction. Communicators and PADDs resemble mobile phones and tablets that we use today, but are supposed to exist in the 2300s/2400s. It must have been understandably difficult to imagine that these things would become commonplace at the turn of the millennium when you're writing in the 80s, never mind the 60s and 70s. Video communications were common in the sci-fi of the 70s and yet by the 90s had been written off as impossible because data transfer rates could never be sufficient; now we have FaceTime over 3G.

The only certain thing about the future of technology is that the small things will make the biggest difference, sometimes it's literally developments in technology that make things physically more diminutive; sometimes it is what appears to be a small change in our understanding that leads to a transformation in the practical application of technology. The concept of tiny robotic nanites never really materialised, but the principles behind that technological dream led to previously inconceivable materials such as aerogel, fullerine and graphene, all based on the manipulation of smaller and smaller objects. Sometimes the reality is far more spectacular and amazing than the fiction predicted, but the application of imagination to the future surely is a driving force for advancement, accurate or not.

Writing Tips

Clearing the Closet