colum­nists

Bon­nie Bur­ton lauds the pre­dic­tions of Philip K Dick

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

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.

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