Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Endorsing The Future


This dates from the early 1980s, I think, back when hand-held computers you could program in  BASIC were cutting edge. One small measure of how important Isaac Asimov was, as a cultural figure: he wasn't just the default face of American science fiction; he was also the default face of popular science writing. Now, as the newspapers and TV news keep reminding us, everything is like science fiction, so science-fiction writers are no longer needed to explain how amazing some bit of technological kit is, because we've come to expect the amazing. Now, we have hand-held computers with full-colour touch screens, wireless connectivity to the whole wide world, memories equivalent to the content of the Library of Congress, and magical AI assistants. And everyone takes them for granted. And it's kind of cool, because it means we really are living in the future.  But what would be truly amazing, these days?

8 Comments:

Blogger Paul Weimer said...

The tagline to my blog is indeed "Living in the Science Fiction present", indeed so.

November 16, 2011 7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if, as a breed, SF writers are precisely the people least likely to take these things for granted, because we're constantly thinking about technological change, innovation, the pace of development and so on.

I still have a Casio scientific calculator I bought around 1994, assuming it's not even older than that (I have two). I've never changed the batteries and it still works flawlessly, doing what it was designed to do. It's far nicer to use than any calculator I can run on my PC. The fact that it does what it does, and still works as well as it ever did, is pretty amazing.

November 16, 2011 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Al R said...

That was me, by the way.

November 16, 2011 8:10 PM  
OpenID saintneko said...

aquacomputation - turning the entire ocean into a giant liquid computer (and wouldn't that be useful for computing climate change effects and effecting climate change with it's computations of climate change effects that effect climate change that...)

November 17, 2011 12:14 AM  
Anonymous Duncan Lawie said...

It's actually quite hard to think of something that isn't already an ancient SF trope - whether it's flying cars or FTL.

The tourists-in-space era does seem to be approaching though. For me, it would still be amazing if I could go to Earth orbit / the moon for a holiday.

November 17, 2011 11:13 AM  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Al - I have a Casio scientific calculator too. Bought it when I started my Ph.D, so it's 35 years old - about the same age as Voyager 1. Still use it. And it's solar-powered. The future was something, back then.

Saintneko - maybe that's how Solaris was born. You start off with a vast oceanic quantum computer an the next thing you know it's a siren trap for passing cosmonauts.

Duncan - it's not so much the idea of real space tourism that's amazing to me, but that the man who owns it used to run a weird little record shop in a sunken shopping arcade outside Bristol bus station.

November 17, 2011 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Orin said...

"Something amazing" is probably something completely unexpected - "black swan" tech. It would amaze us because no one predicted or conceptualized it other than it's inventors.

November 18, 2011 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Al R said...

Facial recognition technology caught me unawares: I'd bought a mid-price Panasonic camera a few years ago, and before I'd read the manual properly I had the thing sitting on the coffee table. There also happened to be a five pound note on the table, leaning against a coffee cup. To my amazement, the camera's viewfinder locked onto the image of the Queen on the banknote. I was pretty impressed with that - not only was this technology cheap enough to be built into relatively inexpensive camera, and robust enough to detect the image of a face, rather than the face itself, it obviously wasn't considered all that big a deal by the manufacturer.

November 18, 2011 1:05 PM  

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