In AD 1950, Robert Heinlein in an article titled "Pandora's Box" made several predictions for the year 2000. He noted where his predictions were still accurate, admitted where they were wrong, and waffled and excused and gave additional thoughts on the matter in an amended list of predictions in his 1966, "Where To?". Finally, in 1980 he wrote additional after-afterthoughts on the matter, as collected in "Expanded Universe."Being equal to Mr. Heinlein in loudmouthedness, albeit far inferior to him in foresight and other talents, I would like to take the opportunity to overmatch Mr. Heinlein’s foolhardiness with my own, and make predictions parallel to his.
Instead of making the obvious admission that it is impossible to predict the future, even in the short term, due to the chaotic nature of history, let me just say that Science Fiction writers are storytellers, and our ability to predict the future is equal to that of mystery writers, romance writers, or writers of samurai vampire pirate stories
Pandora’s Box of 2059!
Interplanetary travel will continue to languish. There is no pressing economic or military need to put men on other planets. Manned missions to outer space will continue to be as rare as manned missions to the bottom of the Marianas Trench.
Sorry, sciencefictioneers, but there are no technical solutions on the horizon, beanstalk or lifting laser, which can overcome the steep economics of the gravity well. For the next 50 years, there will continue to be nothing much up in space which is not more easily available here on Earth.
Expect robotic probes to continue, as well as military exploitation of near-earth space.
The sexual revolution will be recognized as a complete failure. Monogamy and chastity will return as norms of behavior. Homosexuality will be reclassified as a mental disease.
This prediction has two drives to it. First, the sexual revolutionaries of the West will have no ability or desire to defy Mohammedan demands that laws and customs enforce norms of public decency. Second, the fertility gap between sexual revolutionaries and social conservatives will grow. The sexual revolution, and its accompanying practice of aborticide, is a Darwinian dead-end.
The most important military fact of this century is that increasingly smaller cadres of devoted zealots can destroy, with modern weaponry, the delicate physical and legal infrastructure on which free, democratic technological civilization rests.
With every advance in weapons, smaller numbers of men can do more damage to larger numbers of civilians. The democracies for a time might preserve themselves by adopting the intrusive measures of a “surveillance state”, or by suspending the freedom of religion, or both.
The United States will react to the increasing threats from an increasingly unstable world by committing herself to wars of conquest, at first for arguably military reasons, but eventually to convert infidels, heretics, and secular humanists.
I predict this will happen not after the first major city is destroyed or depopulated by a terrorist nuke, nerve gas attack, or bacterium—it will take more than a few thousand dead to uproot the ancient and honored American sense of decency—but not after the time the fifth major city has been.
If this prediction seems out of keeping with the traditions and national character of the American public, let me also predict that the national character will suffer a dramatic change in the next fifty years, and not for the better. Demographics will continue its relentless work: most Americans will be Mexicans, and not-too-interested in assimilation. The next generation will know only as much about the American Constitution and our traditions as the public schools see fit to pass to the next generation: which means, historically speaking, the next generation might as well be a tableau rasa.
The dependency of the common man on the government will grow, and, when socialized medicine becomes a fact of life, will pass the point of no return. Dependents are psychologically conditioned to look to the state for salvation when they are hurt: therefore psychologically apt to retaliate to the hardship of war with bloodthirsty calls for the genocide of the enemy.
In fifteen years the housing shortage will be worse than ever.
Economic shortages are caused by interference in the mechanisms of supply and demand. The political motivations for continuing such interference are strong and immediate; the motivations for exercising restraint are remote and weak.
World hunger will be recognized as a political, and not an economic nor technical problem.
Socialism causes starvation and capitalism produces plenty. It is perfectly obvious now for anyone who has eyes to see, an added fifty years for the evidence to become even more plain will make the realization clear enough.
Since the whole overpopulation scare was a boogieman of the socialist Left, and since the coming conflict will be between the Christian Conservative West and the Totalitarian Muslim East, there will be no major players with an interest in propagating the myth of overpopulation.
The cult of the phony in art will flourish as never before. Music, dance, acting, and the fine arts will revert to ever more primitive and crude aberrations.
This is a consequence of the economics surrounding the world of art. Producing wreckage requires less talent than producing a work of craftsmanship, but absent a philosophical justification for seeking beauty in art, wreckage commands rewards, both financial and personal, equal to craftsmanship, but requiring less effort.
In popular art we may see a return to certain standards of decency and craftsmanship, merely because the paying public might reward such behavior.
Marxism, Freudianism, Sociobiology, and Social Darwinism will be classed as charlatans and frauds akin to dowsers and astrologers.
This is more a hope than a prediction. Despite the strong psychological motives for believing rubbish, pseudo-scientific theories tend not to linger across generations.
We'll all be getting a little sicker by and by.
Whether or not medicine is totally socialized or only partly depends on specifics that cannot be predicted. The general trend, however, can be foretold with confidence: continued government regulation will continue to drive medical goods and services away from a free market model and toward a rationing model.
Rationing medicine will wreck our medical professions, and, this time, there will be no further America to which Europeans and Canadians can fly for health care. We have seen the golden age of medical science: everything after this will be poorer, more expensive, take longer.
By the middle of this century, there are no prospects for interstellar flights, even unmanned ones.
The distance even to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, and the cost of accelerating even a small payload to a velocity that can cover that distance in a human lifetime, or the lifetime of a human institution (such as a government, private organization, or a Church) completely outweigh any possible benefit.
Interstellar travel will never happen. Get used to it.
Your personal telephone will spy on you. It is for your own safety.
America might hold out longer than Europe. In Britain, at the time of this writing, Her Majesty’s government is already installing teevee cameras in grammar schools to keep an omniscient eye on schoolboys. This surveillance will have no real influence on the crime rate, of course.
The future will be recorded as evidence to be used against you. Get used to it.
Intelligent life will not found on Mars, on any planet, or anywhere else.
Since I am limiting myself to the next fifty years, this is a fairly safe prediction. Man is alone. Get used to it.
Oil will not be depleted, not be more scarce than at present, nor, correcting for inflation and factoring out taxes, be more expensive than at present. Wind, solar, and alternate sources of energy will remain trivial, and have no real effect on the world energy markets.
We are only talking about 50 years. The energy infrastructure of the industrialized nations cannot change so very much. Whenever the oil prices get too high, the political pressure to let the free market react and find new and more efficient methods of exploiting oil gets high was well.
When Julian Simon bets against scaremeister Paul Ehrlich, I go with Simon.
Physics will be revolutionized by a theory that reconciles relativity and quantum mechanics.
This is a perfectly safe bet. Right now, the standard model of physics is like that of later geocentric models: there were simply too many epicycles. Kepler at a stroke reduced the complexity of the heavenly spheres to elegant ellipses. The current complexity of modern physics is ripe for similar simplification.
We will not achieve a "World State" in the predictable future. We will not be able to maintain a “World Market” or “Global Economy.”
The current infrastructure of economic relations between the states is based on Western hegemonic power, which is rapidly eroding. Look for the collapse of the international banking system in our lifetimes.
Without a formal Amendment of the Constitution, the Constitution will nonetheless be abolished in all significant respects. The each branch of government will each take on the prerogatives of the other two. American citizens will be unaware of basic civics or the theory of limited government. America circa 2059 will be as Britain circa 2009.
Hardly a daring prediction. This is happening now.
Advances in military technology will end the civilian aircraft industry.
This prediction assumes that a hand-held weapon be able, in fifty years, to do the damage a shoulder-mounted rocket can do in the current time.
Fish and Beef and lamb and mutton will be less expensive than ever. We will be even fatter and more disgusting looking. No one will care, because we will all spend more time online, as electronic avatars, than seeing each other face to face.
Overpopulation and scarcity scares are based on a Malthusian notion of economics that has never found support either in theory or practice.
Mankind will not destroy itself, nor will "civilization" be destroyed. Global Warming will be as forgotten as Global Cooling or the Salem Witch-Craze; but the next craze and the one after that will occupy the hysteria of the panicking class.
However, civilization will grow remarkably less civilized, as we adopt the norms of the Mohammedan world, and new forms of barbaric Western secular philosophy make their appearance.
I do not think the professional Chicken Little will vanish in the next fifty years: there is too much money and political power to be found in scaremongering, and the Western public is more scientifically illiterate not less, than the postwar years where eco-scaremongering became popular.
Prediction Twenty: The Negative Predictions
Things we won't get ever:
1. Travel through time.
2. Travel faster than the speed of light.
3. "Radio" transmission of matter.
4. Manlike robots with manlike reactions.
5. Laboratory creation of life.
6. Real understanding of what "thought" is and how it is related to matter.
7. Nor a permanent end to war. (I don't like that prediction any better than you do.)
These are philosophical and theological realities, not related to science or to physics, and hence fifty years of scientific change will not change these seven things.
I sincerely doubt we will ever achieve a scientific ‘proof’ of survival after death, merely because I do not see what could constitute the kind of proof that science would admit as valid, but I do not list this prediction here merely because “near-death” experiences raise enough serious questions that I cannot rule out the possibility of an unexpected breakthrough in his area.