Coping with the future

Anyone writing stories set in the future has to worry, at least a little bit, of their vision of things yet to come becoming ho-hum.

How about this for a 2012 robot:

Or this 2010 pack-robot test:


These things are so capable (although not very “smart”), it is a challenge to properly account for them, even 20 years into the future.

About Patrick Sullivan

Pat Sullivan is an electrical engineer by training, corrupted into an Information Assurance architect--He recently let slip the secret motto of all IA people: "We're not happy 'til you're not happy." He likes to read science fiction and espionage thrillers, has a few patents, and is trying hard to breath life into a science fiction novel.


Coping with the future — 6 Comments

  1. Yeah; technology is skipping ahead and it’s hard to predict what’s coming. That makes it difficult to write about the future unless you posit a collapse of some sort. It helps to be “au courant” with what’s coming out so that you can do some reasonable extrapolation. A lot of authors seem to have been left in the dust by technology. I recently read a story for slush set 30+ years in the future, where communication with an intelligent computer entity was accomplished by text on a green screen. You know, the kind of screen that nobody’s used for 20 years.

    I like to think that the important thing is not whether the technological vision is accurate, but whether the characters and story are compelling. (Going back a couple of posts) The idea is not to be a prophet, but to avoid being totally ridiculous in a way that breaks people out of the story. Many classics of the genre have held up just fine despite failing to predict that (for instance) everyone would have a communications device/computer/camera in their pocket.

  2. Those two robots are cool, and remind me that the military will be using small, semi-autonomous robots more in the future (as the “big dog” suggests.) I will have to incorporate them in my story, “Cherry.” I already had a plan for the enemy to use them, but it only makes sense that the Cav, on their drop to the planet, would be accompanied by equipment and supply bearing drones (especially since they don’t know how long they will sustain themselves on the ground without support from the parent ship. It also makes me wonder what other technological marvels will accompany them (in addition to the ones I already use.) Perhaps they will employ a form of ground-penetrating sensors that use gravitational signatures to identify deep cavities, ostensibly more reliable than current GPR, which has a very shallow reach, especially on a broad field. I’ve put a lot of thought into the multi-functional, strength enhancing exoskeletons/environmental suits. What about healing-enhancing rays, wielded by the protag medic? They do that on Star Trek, so it’s not exactly a new idea. How about a ray-anesthetic, potentially safer than drugs? Latticed memory “blocks” instead of essentially two-dimensional chips, to carry thousands of times the memory for computers? I already use those in the same universe, but that idea isn’t really unique either. Weapons? Death rays are as old as “golden age” SF. Should I be using them? If not, I need a reason (current armor blocks harmful rays, rendering them useless, etc.) I like inserting “old-fashioned” technologies, like the “innovative” use of artillery in Dune. But, as in Dune, I need a reason why they are suddenly more effective than previously expected. Generally speaking, SF readers want to see new and unusual technology. As TT said, the characters and emotional plots should carry the day – but we do like to see new tech, or emerging tech used in new ways. I’ll have to apply some residual brain energy to this question. Thanks for bringing it up, Pat.

    • You have posed excellent questions, Jess, and they can be quite fun to speculate about. I have only touched lightly on the techno gadgets in my story, partly because I know it will require a Whole Lot of Thought to come up with things that are advanced enough, and yet not so fantastic as to make it difficult for the reader to relate to the technology and the events of the story.

      I gave some thought to what current military technology seems to be reaching for, and at base, those things are the eternal desires of military forces through history: I want to protect my forces from destruction and I want to be able to reach out and selectively destroy the forces of my adversaries. Nowadays, “forces” might mean server farms, or the individual soldier walking out on patrol somewhere.

      I tried to choose a couple things that are so hard to do, that they are only dreams now, yet aren’t toooo hard to imagine: direct machine-brain communication so that a soldier sees a person and “knows” “danger” in the same way they see a glass of water and they know “wet.” I haven’t pushed that description very hard, and probably should allow a little diversion to do so.

      “Death Rays” are as old as the hills, but they could be fun to explore. For example, lasers are challenged as death rays because of lots of different technical obstacles (like the destruction of the object tends to give of particles/gases that deflect the laser and reduce its effectiveness. If it was useful in your story you could play with the defense/offense strategies. In most cases I think readers see the gadgets as forces in the story that the characters need to cope with, live with, and don’t want to get too ensnared in their functions. (One of my favorite defenses if someone questions the technical feasability of some gadget is–if I knew how to make it work, I’d be writing a patent application instead of a SF story. Lighten up.)

      Enough rambling. Any of the various technologies important on a battlefield could benefit from a long discussion as to its strengths, limitations, consequences and unintended consequences. That would be a good thread.

  3. It is a tricky balance to have plausible, and even intriguing tech content, and not have it overshadow the PEOPLE.

    I wince sometimes when some authors blur the line between magic and technology, but given enough time….aren’t they the same? Trouble with doing that sort of thing is it’s hard to justify what you didn’t make magical, all the boundaries are broken.

    It’s hard work being god.

  4. Pat, are there blogs/other sources you recommend for keeping up with what’s new & exciting in tech? It’s fascinating to see these robots and imagine what the next generation of them will do (you know, besides become our robot overlords). Great inspiration for fiction.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I have the luxury of getting a clipping service on various tech topics, and don’t have time to follow up on more than a fraction. There are some sources that keep popping up as having interesting information. I’ll dig out a list and post it.

    A few that come immediately to mind are:
    *Tech/Gadgets at Gizmodo
    *Scary security things at Invisible Things Lab
    *Real Science at and
    *More Real science at Nature