Why Science Fiction So Often Fails to Predict the Future

saucercarsplash_450x325Gary Westfahls’s 7 fallacies of prediction explain why we haven’t conquered space and aren’t zooming around in sky cars just yet. Depressing, but true.

All the pessimists that think we’re going to use up all resources and then nuke each other should pay the most attention to #6 The Fallacy of Universal Stupidity.

1. The Fallacy of Universal Wealth. This is the assumption that all governments and individuals in the future will be wealthy, so they can afford any technological advances that they desire. A similar premise with identical consequences — the Fallacy of Infinite Price Reduction — is that all technological advances will steadily become cheaper and cheaper until, finally, virtually everyone can afford them.

2. The Fallacy of Replacement. This is the assumption that, once we develop an advanced scientific method to do something, we will immediately abandon all the old methods.

3. The Fallacy of Inevitable Technology. This is the assumption that if there emerges a new, technological way to do something, it will inevitably be adopted. Thus, while the Fallacy of Replacement falsely posits that the new, improved product will entirely replace older alternatives, the Fallacy of Inevitable Technology assumes more modestly that the new, improved product will at least always be put to use to some extent. But even this modest assumption is not always justified.

4. The Fallacy of Extrapolation. This is the assumption that an identified trend will always continue in the same manner, indefinitely into the future.

5. The Fallacy of Analogy. This is the assumption that a new technology will be adopted and employed in the same manner as a related form of previous technology.

6. The Fallacy of Universal Stupidity. This is the assumption that people in the future will be capable of making incredibly stupid mistakes, and getting into incredible messes, that could have been avoided with even the tiniest bit of forethought.

7. The Fallacy of Drama. This is the assumption that major changes will occur in a quick and noticeable fashion, as a result of a single major event or of the actions of a single individual.

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2009.03.02