IBM has published a report called “The Next Five in Five”, which is a cheerily optimistic bit of futurist thinking that lays out the five major technological innovations that the Big Blue crew believe will occur within the next five years. You’ll need to click through for details, but here are the all-important bullet points:
- We will be able to access healthcare remotely, from just about anywhere in the world
- Real-time speech translation-once a vision only in science fiction-will become the norm
- There will be a 3-D Internet
- Technologies the size of a few atoms will address areas of environmental importance
- Our mobile phones will come close to reading our minds
What I find interesting about this report is how plausible it is. It may be that IBM deliberately kept it that way, but even so it contrasts astonishingly to the Tomorrow’s World type of boosterism that I remember from my childhood. I’d watch those programs and think “wow, just imagine that!” I read that list, and I shrug and think “yep, seems likely.”
I have some sympathy with the Mundane manifesto*, and this report shows why – there’s acres of scope for speculative fiction based purely on plausible real-world developments. Though of course you’ll need to get published quickly before reality trumps your fictional masterpiece!
That said, I think there’s still a place for the wide-screen new space opera, which fulfils a different urge. You can write fiction featuring scientifically implausible tropes and still make it deeply relevant to the human condition – as the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks demonstrate most admirably, IMHO.
[* Said Manifesto has vanished into the places where unrenewed domain names are eternally blessed, at least as far as I can tell from a perfunctory Googling, but Abigail Nussbaum’s report on it will tell you most of what you need to know.]