Jules Verne versus Reid Brechner:
Predicting the Future Smackdown
|Jules, we’re honored to have you with us today. It seems to me that success in the field of predicting the course of technological developments depends more on a grasp of psychology than it does on technology, grasping what people would do with technology rather than what they could do. Nothing exemplified that more than your brilliant Paris in the Twentieth Century, rejected 150 years ago as being too bizarre to publish, rediscovered and published in 1994, in which you anticipated fax machines, photocopiers, urban light pollution, populist trends in academia and a host of other modern realities. Amazing!
Jules: Thanks Kenny I’m delighted to be here and look forward to squaring off against my young but formidable antagonist, or so I judge him to be by his fine beard.
Reid: I would like to say that when I have reached such a fruitful age I hope for nothing more than to be graced by the spoils of a long life of beard maintenance, and to be worthy of a comparison with your hirsute grandeur.
Great. Our first question is, given the rate of technological change, will divisions deepen in society or will the changes cause an increasing uniformity?
Jules: Good question. As the simulated life experience of digital communication takes root we will actually see communities emerge restricting themselves to technological parameters of earlier periods. People will choose to live with slightly modified versions of 1990, 2010, 1850, and so forth with all kinds of fusions thrown in. In this way people will congregate into miniature societies built around their relative comfort levels with physical versus digital existence. At that point those not living in technologically regressive environments will end up living in enclosed simulation modules.
Reid: Well Kenny, I think that requires a two pronged answer. How I feel is actually that the great increase of technology provides two separate paths in which both of your proposition scenarios occur. On a certain level new and advanced technology will appeal to all social classes, to all monetary classes, in the same way that say television would apply today, yet in a more interactive way. Therefore the people of the world will have created two separate personae, thereby almost doubling their individuality and their profundity. At the same time, as people begin to spend more time utilizing technology, essentially spending more time on the computer, and as that technology becomes accessible to everyone at every understanding level, I think that people are going to start spending less time with their actual persona and more time as something they’re not. All in all I don’t believe that there will be any net change.
Almost too close to call but round one goes to Jules. Our second question is: How will the proliferation of new media affect the integrity of history?
Jules: The term history will come to simply mean a personal rendition of past events which more than one person concurs with. It will no longer be the subject of Academic study, or even literary non-fiction. Napoleon’s definition, “history is a pack of lies agreed upon,” will be stretched to cover almost all exercise of personal reflection.
Reid: I don’t think that the integrity of history is threatened beyond its obsolescence. As people begin to put more emphasis on virtual reality the importance of heritage will fade. I doubt that the integrity of history will lessen in the eyes of those who value it, but the numbers of those who do will dwindle.
There is deep agreement between you but Reid wins this round for his more measured response. Our final question is which of today’s current science fiction novels most correctly anticipates the future:
Jules: Catherine Fisher’s brilliant Incarceron. She really grasps the inertia of human motivation.
Reid: Ready Player One is a spot on interpretation of the direction I think technology will be moving in during the next quarter of a century.
Well we won’t really be able to fairly judge that until the feature happens I suppose so we’ll have to leave it a tie until the future develops a little more.
Jules: That seems fair.
Reid: That seems fair.