Sci-Fi Writer Robert Heinlein Imagines the Year 2000 in 1949, and Gets it Mostly Wrong

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Two giants of 20th cen­tu­ry sci­ence fic­tion: Robert Hein­lein and Isaac Asi­mov (see them togeth­er above, with L. Sprague de Camp in-between). Like every young sci-fi geek, I read them both assid­u­ous­ly, got lost in their dizzy­ing uni­vers­es that stretched across nov­els and sig­nif­i­cant teenage mile­stones. Even as an awk­ward kid, I could clear­ly iden­ti­fy an essen­tial dif­fer­ence in tone between their fore­casts of the future. Hein­lein, the Navy man forcibly retired from ser­vice by tuber­cu­lo­sis, had the dark­er vision, in which the brute force of mass mil­i­tarism con­tin­ued to thrive and hero­ic men of action car­ried the day. Asi­mov, the prac­tic­ing scientist—whose “Nor­by” series of kids books might be the cutest intro­duc­tion to sci-fi ever writ­ten by an American—favored a future that, if still quite dan­ger­ous, was man­aged by robots and their cre­ators, the tech­nocrats.

As we can plain­ly see, we are no less a bel­li­cose species than when these two authors wrote of the future, but Asi­mov seems to have had it right. The tech­nocrats came out on top; too many bat­tles are fought not by massed bat­tal­ions but by dead­ly fly­ing robots mak­ing (so we’re told) “sur­gi­cal” strikes. A few weeks ago, we brought you a series of tech­no­crat­ic pre­dic­tions of the year 2014 from Asi­mov, many of them sur­pris­ing­ly accu­rate. Today, we have a list of pre­dic­tions from Hein­lein, this time of the year 2000, and writ­ten in 1949 and pub­lished in 1952 in Galaxy mag­a­zine. How does his pre­dic­tive abil­i­ty stack up against his con­tem­po­rary? Well, I’d say that 2 (stripped of some exag­ger­a­tion), 8, and 11 either hit the mark or come pret­ty damn close. 19 is self-evi­dent­ly true, and 15 is arguably not ter­ri­bly far away, though it may not have seemed so in 2000. 4 is painful­ly iron­ic. The rest? Eh, not so much. Take a look and try to imag­ine your­self in Heinlein’s shoes in 1949. Not an easy task? Try to imag­ine what the world will look like in 2063. Which ver­sion of IOS will you be run­ning then?

1. Inter­plan­e­tary trav­el is wait­ing at your front door — C.O.D. It’s yours when you pay for it.

2. Con­tra­cep­tion and con­trol of dis­ease is revis­ing rela­tions between the sex­es to an extent that will change our entire social and eco­nom­ic struc­ture.

3. The most impor­tant mil­i­tary fact of this cen­tu­ry is that there is no way to repel an attack from out­er space.

4. It is utter­ly impos­si­ble that the Unit­ed States will start a “pre­ven­tive war.” We will fight when attacked, either direct­ly or in a ter­ri­to­ry we have guar­an­teed to defend.

5. In fif­teen years the hous­ing short­age will be solved by a “break­through” into new tech­nolo­gies which will make every house now stand­ing as obso­lete as priv­ies.

6. We’ll all be get­ting a lit­tle hun­gry by and by.

7. The cult of the pho­ny in art will dis­ap­pear. So-called “mod­ern art” will be dis­cussed only by psy­chi­a­trists.

8. Freud will be classed as a pre-sci­en­tif­ic, intu­itive pio­neer and psy­cho­analy­sis will be replaced by a grow­ing, chang­ing “oper­a­tional psy­chol­o­gy” based on mea­sure­ment and pre­dic­tion.

9. Can­cer, the com­mon cold, and tooth decay will all be con­quered; the rev­o­lu­tion­ary new prob­lem in med­ical research will be to accom­plish “regen­er­a­tion,” i.e., to enable a man to grow a new leg, rather than fit him with an arti­fi­cial limb.

10. By the end of this cen­tu­ry mankind will have explored this solar sys­tem, and the first ship intend­ed to reach the near­est star will be a‑building.

11. Your per­son­al tele­phone will be small enough to car­ry in your hand­bag. Your house tele­phone will record mes­sages, answer sim­ple inquiries, and trans­mit vision.

12. Intel­li­gent life will be found on Mars.

13. A thou­sand miles an hour at a cent a mile will be com­mon­place; short hauls will be made in evac­u­at­ed sub­ways at extreme speed.

14. A major objec­tive of applied physics will be to con­trol grav­i­ty.

15. We will not achieve a “World State” in the pre­dictable future. Nev­er­the­less, Com­mu­nism will van­ish from this plan­et.

16. Increas­ing mobil­i­ty will dis­en­fran­chise a major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion. About 1990 a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment will do away with state lines while retain­ing the sem­blance.

17. All air­craft will be con­trolled by a giant radar net run on a con­ti­nent-wide basis by a mul­ti­ple elec­tron­ic “brain.”

18. Fish and yeast will become our prin­ci­pal sources of pro­teins. Beef will be a lux­u­ry; lamb and mut­ton will dis­ap­pear.

19. Mankind will not destroy itself, nor will “Civ­i­liza­tion” be destroyed.

Here are things we won’t get soon, if ever:

– Trav­el through time

– Trav­el faster than the speed of light

– “Radio” trans­mis­sion of mat­ter.

– Man­like robots with man­like reac­tions

– Lab­o­ra­to­ry cre­ation of life

– Real under­stand­ing of what “thought” is and how it is relat­ed to mat­ter.

– Sci­en­tif­ic proof of per­son­al sur­vival after death.

– Nor a per­ma­nent end to war.

Curi­ous­ly, nei­ther Hein­lein nor Asi­mov fore­saw that most ter­ri­bly banal and ubiq­ui­tous phe­nom­e­non of real­i­ty TV, but real­ly, what kind of mon­ster could have imag­ined such a thing?

via Lists of Note/i09

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

Wal­ter Cronkite Imag­ines the Home of the 21st Cen­tu­ry … Back in 1967

Mar­shall McLuhan Announces That The World is a Glob­al Vil­lage

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • urbantravels says:

    #9 — Well, he blew it on cur­ing can­cer, the com­mon cold, and tooth decay — but nailed it on regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine. For­tu­nate­ly he called it “the rev­o­lu­tion­ary new prob­lem” rather than a ful­ly accom­plished goal, so the tim­ing is cor­rect.

  • Yan Raymond says:

    “what kind of mon­ster could have imag­ined such a thing?“nnnAndy Warhol?

  • kwdayboise says:

    Brad­bury came pret­ty close to imag­in­ing real­i­ty tv in Fahren­heit 451. Hein­lein and PK Dick were miles apart ide­o­log­i­cal­ly but friend­ly. Dick wrote about rock­ets from Boise to Seat­tle by the 1980s and sen­tient robots in the same book but has peo­ple tied to land lines. It’s a bitch try­ing to see the future.

  • MindTheRant says:

    “10. By the end of this cen­tu­ry mankind will have explored this solar sys­tem, and the first ship intend­ed to reach the near­est star will be a‑building.nn“11. Your per­son­al tele­phone will be small enough to car­ry in your hand­bag. Your house tele­phone will record mes­sages, answer sim­ple inquiries, and trans­mit vision.“nnnnSeeing these two pre­dic­tions side by side is kind of mind­blow­ing. Obvi­ous­ly Hein­lein con­sid­ered them coeval, so I guess he did­n’t real­ize how much hard­er it would be to do one than the oth­er. Even Kubrick in *2001* got #10 wrong, and he had a near­ly 20-year head­start on Hein­lein.

  • nuke says:

    In his 1965 update, he said the tele­phone pre­dic­tion was timid even for 1949 (pos­si­ble to jury rig an answer­ing machine even then).

    I think he did kind of come close on a few pre­dic­tions that at the time might seem remote. In Between Plan­ets (49), the pro­tag­o­nist uses a cell phone in a com­plete­ly unas­sum­ing and not need­ing expla­na­tion sort of way. In Fri­day (1982), he basi­cal­ly has the Net and Secu­ri­ty State nailed.

    Inter­est­ing some of the things he pre­dict­ed not to take place, that have:

    under­stand­ing of phys­i­cal basis of thought. (even then, you could make an argu­ment that the brain was a big cir­cuit­board made of neu­rons). Hein­lein was a lit­tle mys­ti­cal, so this cold ratio­nal­i­ty would not be his incli­na­tion, but I’m sure he would uncle to the com­mon cur­rent view of the brain and con­scious­ness as pure­ly phys­i­cal and under­stand­able.

    With the pow­er of com­put­ers and of engi­neer­ing, man­like robots are more and more imag­in­able, but of course not close.

    Lab cre­ation of life we sort of have (genet­ic engi­neer­ing), although we don’t have bot­tom-up syn­the­sis of an organ­ism.

    Radio trans­mis­sion of mat­ter is also a stretch. Don’t think we ever have this in Star Trek sense…but trans­mis­sion of designs for fab­ri­ca­tion is sort of a small proxy.

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