by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
journalism, science fiction

Can Science Fiction Predict The Future Of Journalism?

from the yeah,-but-most-people-won't-recognize-it-until-it's-too-late dept

On The Media has an a short interview with journalism professor Loren Ghiglione, who recently wrote a paper examining whether or not science fiction writers are a good place to look for the future of journalism. Unfortunately, I can't easily find a copy of the actual paper anywhere. I believe it was put online here, but the link to the actual file turns up a page not found, unfortunately. The interview itself is a bit short, and I actually find that it's more telling in what it doesn't include, than what it does. That is, it does point to examples of science fiction writers successfully predicting some elements of today's media world from the past:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Albert Robida wrote The Twentieth Century in 1887. What was his vision?

LOREN GHIGLIONE: He's the one who had the all-electric home with telephonographics, news bulletins delivered automatically through telephones, and he had wall-sized telephonoscopes, which were televisions --


- that were interactive so people could react to the news and communicate with other people who were seeing the news.
But when it comes to looking into the future today to figure out what science fiction says about the future of news... well, that comes out a lot more vague:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is there any prediction that struck you as more likely than another?

LOREN GHIGLIONE: Oh, I don't know what's more likely, but I am intrigued about moving beyond the handheld devices. I remember hearing somebody who'd invented the handheld device talking about implanting various devices in the human body that might take care of delivery of news and everything else. So who knows where all of this is headed?
I definitely think that there's plenty to learn from science fiction -- just look around at how many modern technologies today seem to come straight out of science fiction -- but I'm not convinced how much predictive value such things have. Yes, they bring up all sorts of cool ideas, but many of them never actually come to pass. It's neat to cherry pick examples of science fiction that were way ahead of their time in predicting new technologies in the real world, but you can't ignore all of the predictions that did not come true (flying cars!) in the timeframe predicted. So picking which sci-fi ideas from today will really matter to the media in the future still seems quite tricky, since there are so many (cool, unique and creative) ideas that won't actually come true.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Hippy Hop, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 6:36pm

    I had read on a blog the same thing, a certain Robert Sloss back in 1910 had an amazing account of an iPhone. It is really amazing how people can imagine things on the future and comes close to predicting what will really happen. I might say now that I don’t buy the idea of putting gadgets inside my body but who knows, that might be the trend in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 7:17pm

    Philip K Dick

    Inventor of the news clown and the homeopape.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Bruce Partington, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 7:19pm

    The Jagged Orbit, 1969, John Brunner and Bug Jack Barron, 1969, Norman Spinrad, would be apposite.

    And in the related field of reality TV, The Year of the Sex Olympics (teleplay), 1968, Nigel Kneale.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 8:10pm

    Science fiction can non-deterministically predict almost everything...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 8:30pm

    In the future there will be no news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 8:35pm

    While a lot of science fiction is bunk, you'd be surprised at the reliability of results you get when only looking at writers who take the "science" portion seriously.

    Basically, look at the writers who actually do their research, and try to delve into hard sciences. And, of course, ignore the ideas that exist as the central plot-point. (So ignore the killer AI from 2001, but pay attention to the space travel)

    The ones that write about things that "would be cool" can be tossed out pretty easily.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    davebarnes (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 8:47pm

    I love SF

    But, only the winning predictions are remembered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Orr (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 10:01pm

    I can't resist a straight line ...

    I know! I will write an SF story about a technology (superAI, anyone) that reads SF stories, analyzes them, and tells us which ones do in fact predict the future, and which will not pan out .....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Michael Ward (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 10:07pm

    More of Robida on the Future of Publishing

    Robida illustrated, and Octave Uzanne wrote, a piece in 1895 predicting that printed books would soon be replaced ... by audio streams and recordings....

    Here's one version:

    The illos are hilarious!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    G Thompson (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 11:31pm


    Via the neo-majik of Google Docs.. I bring you this new fangled SCi-Fi cached version of the actual paper.

    Just click on print and you too can have a shiny new PDF copy delivered to your door via the new media ;)

    Clicky for SCI-FI paper

    If the above link doesn't work (or this cut down version) reply and will email you my copy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Aug 18th, 2010 @ 2:36am

    I predict the abolition of copyright

    If as a computer scientist I predict the abolition of copyright and no-one believes it at all likely to happen in their lifetimes, is that science fiction?

    I predict that journalists will soon get paid directly by their keenest readers, despite their published work being free.

    Perhaps the question is not whether science fiction can predict the future for journalism, but whether predictions of its future must necessarily be regarded as science fiction?

    Any sufficiently advanced business model for the exchange of intellectual work is indistinguishable from charlatanism.

    (cf Clarke's Third Law)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 4:49am

    Predicting the Future.

    My personal take on this was something more along the lines of a small wearable device that would project it's interfaces into space rather than using physical screens. It didn't need to be implanted. It just projected stuff and measured your reactions to the projections.

    That was my idea of more-advanced-tech-than-Trek in the early 80s. There are some prototype devices now that are along those same lines.

    OTOH, there are tons of predictions by futurists and authors that are really wrong and have been forgotten about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Jezsik (profile), Aug 18th, 2010 @ 7:00am

    Sci-Fi is a terrible predictor

    I used to have a voracious appetite for science fiction and read countless books on the near and distant future. The one thing I can say about them is that they do a lousy job at predicting the future.

    One case in point is the internet. There is not a single story I can remember that predicted this, arguably the most important media advance since movable type. There were plenty of stories about gigantic databases that required special skills to pull information, plenty more stories with artificial intelligences of varying ability and lots of high-tech communication tools, but nothing that came close to the internet and what it accomplished.

    As another poster pointed out, the hard science fiction writers do a good job of describing future technology (e.g., Clarke's space elevator), but as far as predicting how those technologies affect our society? Not so much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Michele, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 7:07am

    a contemporary sci-fi novel

    Check out the novel Feed by M.T. Anderson. It takes place in the near future where social networking and the internet become literally fused within our brains and bodies. Instead of carrying around smartphones and laptops we have everything we need in our mind's eye. It takes the whole "big brother" route too where our thoughts essentially dictate the advertisements we are forced to view on our "feed."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Adam, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 7:08am

    The prediction from the '60s that I'd love to see is Frank Herbert's (of Dune fame) formation of a Bureau of Sabotage or BuSab. See: for a summary.

    This government body's purpose is to frustrate the workings of government in order to give sentients a chance to reflect upon changes and deal with them. Having saved sentiency from its government, BuSab was officially recognized as a necessary check on the power of government. It provides a natural (and lucrative) outlet for society's regular crop of troublemakers, who must be countered by society's regular crop of "do-gooders".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    A. Coward, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 7:56am

    Why there are less...

    The reason there are less Science Fiction artifacts in real life (ie. flying cars) is regulations and lack of funding. There is already a Flying car (or a driving aircraft if you will) almost ready for mass production: It was supposed to hit the streets and air this year, but FAA and National Highway regulations keeps holding them back.

    Same issue with many other things, we don't yet have wireless electricity ( of regulations and how difficult it is for the average inventor to get a patent, get testing permissions, and find funding for experiments on this kind of technology.

    Back in the Tesla, Graham Bell, and other inventors they would be allowed to test and try many different things, the US brought them from wherever they were to try their experiments here, helped them get funding, and made it somewhat pleasant for them to try new ideas. Nowadays is a PITA to try to implement any new idea.

    And that's why we have less and less Science fiction type technologies!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 7:59am

    Re: Sci-Fi is a terrible predictor

    Robert Heinlein predicted it. His version was less automated (ie, it involved people talking to librarians, who would then research the information, then send it to the person who requested it via series of pneumatic tubes) but the end result was the same. It was in one of his earlier novels.

    There is also the version that Friday (the titular heroine) used.

    I want to say that there was a version in Methuselah's Children, as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Roy, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 11:18am

    Re: Sci-Fi is a terrible predictor

    Try Murray Leinster's 'A Logic Named Joe' from 1946

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 6:47pm

    Re: Sci-Fi is a terrible predictor

    It wasn’t fiction, but a guy named Vannevar Bush predicted a device he called the Memex back in 1946. The idea was to have all human knowledge at your fingertips.

    OK, this is getting beyond journalism, which is specifically what the article was asking about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 8:27pm

    Which is the cause?

    Moving beyond journalism again, it may be worth considering how much yesterdays sci-fi stories inspired todays technologists. Some of the seamingly ridiculous ideas that appeared in sci-fi stories inspired someone to try to create the item described in the story.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Jose_X, Aug 19th, 2010 @ 4:15pm

    Promoting my progress

    Quick, let's grab for free some of these revolutionary thoughts and patent them or slight variations of them!

    That'll promote my progress for sure!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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