Bonnie Burton lauds the predictions of Philip K Dick
Bonnie on Philip K Dick and Langford on… lots.
Humanoid robots! Iris recognition computers! Lab- grown artificial life!
These were once the fanciful ideas of science fiction author Philip K Dick, but as we all know they’ve become all too real. Skype calls, military drones and bad reality TV are the norm now.
The future according to Dick is so dead- on, it’s downright creepy. There’s a fine line between insane and insightful, and Dick mixed the two elements artfully in his writing.
I first started reading Dick when I was a teenager obsessed with Blade Runner, based on Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. After that I was hooked. I read anything he wrote — in total 44 novels and 121 short stories. For me, Dick wasn’t just a talented writer; he was an uncanny futurist who could predict where technology, politics, capitalism and psychology were headed way before most other sci- fi authors.
In his 1956 short story “Minority Report” – later made into a movie, of course – we are introduced to precognitive humans who can predict murders before they happen. While that isn’t a reality yet, we did get some interesting tech that has since become a reality – hand gesture- based computer interfaces and eye iris recognition technology are both very real today.
“Minority Report” also predicted personallytargeted advertising, computer- driven cars and electronic news media ( think iPads). Spider robots are being developed by the US military to give soldiers another way to survey areas that are too dangerous for humans to walk through for recon.
In 1980, the author made prophecies he thought would come true in the next 30 years. Many of the ideas, which sounded far- fetched at the time, are now coming true one by one thanks to advances in robotics, technology and medicine.
According to Dick, “The United States and the Soviet Union will agree to set up one vast metacomputer as a central source for information available to the entire world; this will be essential due to the huge amount of information coming into existence.” While Dick did not anticipate the USSR’s downward spiral, the World Wide Web clearly came true.
“Computers used by ordinary citizens will transform the public from passive viewers of TV into mentally alert, highly trained, information-processing experts,” Dick wrote. Thanks to YouTube and social media, citizens are now the world’s watchdogs. We care when protests turn into violent riots. We take video when the police overstep their boundaries. And we turn Twitter hashtags into public outcry when we see an abuse of power. Each generation of computer users is becoming more and more skilled at finding and processing information.
Of course, not everything Dick predicted came true. Dick thought that by 1997, “The first closed- dome colonies will be successfully established on Luna and Mars. Through DNA modification, quasimutant humans will be created who can survive under nonTerran conditions, ie alien environments.”
Sure we have space stations, but off- world colonies for lucky humans who want to get away from a polluted Earth have yet to become a reality. And the only quasi- mutant humans we are familiar with are in the pages of Marvel and DC comics. Luckily, his prediction that by 2000 “an alien virus, brought back by an interplanetary ship, will decimate the population of Earth” did not come true.
So while we can all appreciate Dick’s uncanny ability to foretell impressive advances in technology, space travel, robotics and science, I’m more than happy an alien virus hasn’t wiped us out… yet.
Many of the ideas are now coming true one by one
The last time Bonnie was at an airport she used iris detection devices.
our columnist bonnie burton, a san Franciscobased author, has written a number of books including her latest – The Star Wars Craft Book. bonnie appears on the massive “Geek & sundry” and “stan lee’s World of Heroes” youtube channels. more of her writing can be found at www. grrl. com.