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Sci-Fi writers and technology's future

Daniel Dern | Dec. 17, 2008
CIO invited noted science fiction authors Larry Niven, Robert Sawyer, Nancy Kress and Charles Stross to share their thoughts on technology-related predictions.

Nancy Kress wouldn't change anything. "The short-term predictions have proved true, and the long-term ones can't yet be verified or disproven. Literary safety in avoiding the mid-range timescale!"

What advice do you have for writers-or technologists-trying to make five to twenty year predictions and forecasts?

"The standard advice is to be aggressive in your predictions; there's this notion that the future always comes faster than you think it will," suggests Robert Sawyer.

"But, actually, I think a lot of us underestimated social inertia," he adds. "Most of us predicted a secular 21st century, and it's anything but that. The world is like a person: It doesn't change as it gets older. Rather, it simply becomes more obviously what it always was. People always liked having phones and portable music, but most people never wanted to lug a camera, or an ebook reader, or a PDA around. The future is adding functionality to those things we've already admitted into our lives, not trying to convince people they need new categories of things; the iPhone-the all-in-one device that is, first and foremost, something familiar-is the correct paradigm."

Charles Stross says, "We are living in interesting times; in fact, they're so interesting that it is not currently possible to write near-future SF." (See Stross' essay, Living through Interesting Times for more on this.)

Nancy Kress advises those who are trying to predict the future to "Study the cutting edge of the specific field. Create wild cards. And then don't worry about being wrong-it's science fiction."

One thing we personally feel safe in predicting: You'll enjoy reading what these authors have to say. And what could be cooler than reading science fiction as part of your job?

Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer based in Newton Center, Mass. His website is and his technology blog is


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