Philip K. Dick Makes Off-the-Wall Predictions for the Future: Mars Colonies, Alien Viruses & More (1981)

Philip K. Dick died in 1982, but read­ers — more read­ers than ever, in all prob­a­bil­i­ty — still thrill to his dar­ing, uncon­ven­tion­al imag­i­na­tion, and how tight­ly he could weave the inven­tions of that imag­i­na­tion into mun­dane real­i­ty. (Some­times they won­der, as in his meet­ing with God, to what extent he him­self could tell the two apart.) And like many strong-visioned writ­ers of what rough­ly fell into the cat­e­go­ry of sci­ence fic­tion, Dick got con­sult­ed now and again as some­thing of a futur­ist.

In 1980, David Wal­lechin­sky, Amy Wal­lace, and Irv­ing Wal­lace (the Book of Lists peo­ple) round­ed up visions of the future from all man­ner of sages past and present, pre­scient and incom­pe­tent, in order to cre­ate The Book of Pre­dic­tions. Dick­’s con­tri­bu­tions, repub­lished in the Sep­tem­ber 2003 issue of fanzine PKD Otaku, go like this.

  • 1983: The Sovi­et Union will devel­op an oper­a­tional par­ti­cle-beam accel­er­a­tor, mak­ing mis­sile attack against that coun­try impos­si­ble. At the same time the U.S.S.R. will deploy this weapon as a satel­lite killer. The U.S. will turn, then, to nerve gas.
  • 1984: The U.S. will per­fect a sys­tem by which hydro­gen, stored in met­al hydrides, will serve as a fuel source, elim­i­nat­ing a need for oil.
  • 1985: By or before this date there will be a titan­ic nuclear acci­dent either in the U.S.S.R. or in the U.S., result­ing in shut­ting down all nuclear pow­er plants.
  • 1986: Such satel­lites as HEAO‑2 will uncov­er vast, unsus­pect­ed high ener­gy phe­nom­e­non in the uni­verse, indi­cat­ing that there is suf­fi­cient mass to col­lapse the uni­verse back when it has reached its expan­sion lim­it.
  • 1989: The U.S. 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.
  • 1993: An arti­fi­cial life form will be cre­at­ed in a lab, prob­a­bly in the U.S.S.R., thus reduc­ing our inter­est in locat­ing life forms on oth­er plan­ets.
  • 1995: Com­put­er use by ordi­nary cit­i­zens (already avail­able in 1980) will trans­form the pub­lic from pas­sive view­ers of TV into men­tal­ly alert, high­ly trained, infor­ma­tion-pro­cess­ing experts.
  • 1997: The first closed-dome colonies will be suc­cess­ful­ly estab­lished on Luna and Mars. Through DNA mod­i­fi­ca­tion, qua­si-mutant humans will be cre­at­ed who can sur­vive under non-Ter­ran con­di­tions, i.e., alien envi­ron­ments.
  • 1998: The Sovi­et Union will test a propul­sion dri­ve that moves a star­ship at the veloc­i­ty of light; a pilot ship will set out for Prox­i­ma Cen­tau­rus, soon to be fol­lowed by an Amer­i­can ship.
  • 2000: An alien virus, brought back by an inter­plan­e­tary ship, will dec­i­mate the pop­u­la­tion of Earth, but leave the colonies on Luna and Mars intact.
  • 2012: Using tachyons (par­ti­cles that move back­ward in time) as a car­ri­er, the Sovi­et Union will attempt to alter the past with sci­en­tif­ic infor­ma­tion.

Cher­ry-pick­ers among us will fix­ate on Dick­’s near-hits: the devel­op­ment of DNA mod­i­fi­ca­tion, a 1985 nuclear acci­dent in the U.S.S.R. (Cher­nobyl hap­pened in 1986), and com­put­er use by ordi­nary cit­i­zens (though our sta­tus as “men­tal­ly alert, high­ly trained, infor­ma­tion-pro­cess­ing experts” admit­ted­ly remains ques­tion­able). Oth­ers might pre­fer to high­light the most improb­a­ble, such as the elim­i­nat­ed need for oil, the cre­ation of arti­fi­cial life, and not just the 21st-cen­tu­ry exis­tence but even­tu­al time-trav­el­ing capa­bil­i­ties of the Sovi­et Union.

Still, even in his fic­tion, Dick does have his moments of prophe­cy, espe­cial­ly for those who share his para­noia that we’ve unwit­ting­ly let our­selves slip into sur­veil­lance-state con­di­tions. But I’ve always found him best, espe­cial­ly in the what-if-Japan-won-the-war sto­ry The Man in the High Cas­tle, as a teller of alter­nate his­to­ries, whether of the past, present, or future. These pre­dic­tions, stretch­ing from just after the writer’s death to just before our time, strike me as noth­ing so much as the premis­es for the best nov­el Philip K. Dick nev­er wrote.

You can find 33 of his sto­ries online here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Philip K. Dick Takes You Inside His Life-Chang­ing Mys­ti­cal Expe­ri­ence

Robert Crumb Illus­trates Philip K. Dick’s Infa­mous, Hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry Meet­ing with God (1974)

33 Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Philip K. Dick as Free Audio Books & Free eBooks

Philip K. Dick Pre­views Blade Run­ner: “The Impact of the Film is Going to be Over­whelm­ing” (1981)

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

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Mark Twain Pre­dicts the Inter­net in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Sto­ry, “From The ‘Lon­don Times’ in 1904”

In 1968, Stan­ley Kubrick Makes Pre­dic­tions for 2001: Human­i­ty Will Con­quer Old Age, Watch 3D TV & Learn Ger­man in 20 Min­utes

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Matty says:

    PKD changed my life com­plete­ly. I just wish he were still alive to see a lot of his ideas come to fruition. He along with Ter­ence McKen­na real­ly altered rigid con­cepts of every­thing we think we know.

  • Sheena Henderson Nottingham says:

    I need phone and car get away please help my son and I my hus­band please

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